Wildlife officials in Wisconsin announced earlier this month that the wolf population is booming, coming close to the state’s all-time high. Preliminary surveys conducted by the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) place current wolf numbers between 746 to 771 wolves, a roughly 13 percent increase from last year’s count of 660.
Wisconsin’s all-time high since the reintroduction was in 2012 with 815 animals. That unexpectedly large number led to high quotas during the 2013 hunting season, which has since fluctuated until 2015. Wolf hunting was very popular in Wisconsin—not unlike the several other states that have also recently held reintroduced wolf seasons—and was supported by both DNR biologists and rural residents. Despite this, a federal court ruling in December returned the species back to the endangered species list and halted hunting in the states of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
Without the hunt as a management tool, Wisconsin biologists say that the wolf population can be expected to grow another 10 to 15 percent next year. DNR large carnivore specialist David MacFarland told the Wisconsin State Journal that this boom is proof that wolves are more resilient than many people think.
“It does show that you can have sustainable harvest of a wolf population,” MacFarland said.
Before control of the wolves was returned to the US Fish and Wildlife Service in December, the DNR experimented with lowered quotas and a shorter season, which MacFarland said likely contributed to the higher population in 2015.
“We believe that’s due to our hunters and trappers realizing […] that it’s going to be a relatively short season in their preferred unit and if they want to go pursue wolves, they need to do so early in the season,” he told the Rockford Advocate. “We’ll be looking at ways, if there are future seasons, to control the pace of harvest in a way to match up our legally-mandated closure procedures with the pace of harvest.”
Whether or not the wolf hunt will return anytime soon, however, is undecided. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is appealing the December court ruling to return control back to the Great Lakes states, which are also attempting the reverse decision. In addition, certain members of Congress are attempting to pass legislation that would remove wolves from the endangered species list.
Image courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service