Debacle: How a Kansas Group Forced a Wolf Hunt in Wisconsin That Turned into a ‘Bloodbath’; 97 Wolves Killed over the Limit

(EnviroNews Nature) — One-fifth of Wisconsin’s gray wolf (Canis lupus) population is dead after hunters and trappers slaughtered more than 200 animals in a three-day, sanctioned trophy binge. Official numbers reported by Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) show the “harvest” exceeded quota numbers in every zone, resulting in almost twice the number of wolf-kills as was sanctioned. The numbers were updated on Feb. 26, 2021, and the WDNR notes they are subject to change, which means the number of wolf deaths could be even higher.

The state opened hunting season on Feb. 22, receiving over 27,000 applications to participate in the wolf cull. WDNR made 2,380 harvest authorizations available for purchase and set the quota for wolves at 200. However, 81 of those wolves were allocated to the Ojibwe Tribes “in accordance with their treaty rights in the Ceded Territory.” The season was supposed to last until Feb. 28, but as wolf-kills piled up, WDNR started announcing zone closures Feb. 23 at 10 am. The hunt came to an end just three days into the proposed time period with an announcement stating all zones were closed at 4:56 pm on Feb. 24. By that time, the hunt had exceeded its non-tribal quota by 82 percent with 216 animals dead.

Under President Trump, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) removed Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for gray wolves on Jan 4, 2021. Wisconsin officials were then pressured by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty which filed a lawsuit on behalf of Hunter Nation Inc. — a Kansas-based hunting advocacy group — saying the state violated its own constitution when it decided not to open wolf hunting season. Jefferson County Judge Bennett Brantmeier ruled in the group’s favor and required the WDNR to rush into opening a wolf hunting season. WDNR filed an appeal to stop the hunt, but a three-judge panel at the Wisconsin Court of Appeals refused to hear the case stating, “This court lacks jurisdiction over a direct appeal at this time.”

Kitty Block, President and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, alongside Sara Amundson, President of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, wrote this in a joint blog on March 1:

[This] no-holds-barred carnage of wolves in Wisconsin last week, which ended with trophy hunters killing nearly twice the sanctioned quota of animals in just under 60 hours, offers a terrible glimpse into just what lies ahead for these beloved native American carnivores unless the Biden Administration moves swiftly to restore their federal protections. Wisconsin’s wolf hunt was, from start to finish, an example of the worst wildlife management practices. The state was not prepared for a February hunt and was forced by a court ruling to rush into one without a clear, updated, scientific plan.

Critics of the hunt attributed the overkill, in part, to the state law requiring the WDNR to give 24-hour notice before prematurely ending a hunting season. It cannot issue an immediate closure. The Natural Resources Board also issued twice as many hunting permits as it normally would according to the Milwaukie Journal Sentinel (MJS).

“Should we, would we, could we have [closed the season] sooner? Yes,” WDNR Wildlife Director Eric Lobner admitted to the MJS. “Did we go over? We did. Was that something we wanted to have happen? Absolutely not.”

Wisconsin Wolf Hounders in 2013 — Photo: via Wolf Patrol

Eighty-six percent of the wolves were killed by hunters using dogs, five percent were taken by trappers, and the remaining wolves were killed through other hunting techniques.

Wisconsin Wolf Hounder — Photo: via Wolf Patrol

Local tribes were also disappointed in the decision to hold a hunt, saying they were not consulted and there were no buffer zones put in place to protect packs that live on tribal lands intermittently. The Ojibwe consider the wolf sacred and railed against the senseless hunt in February.

“To many Ojibwe communities, hunting in late February, a time when fur quality is poor and wolves are in their breeding season, is regarded as especially wasteful and disrespectful,” wrote the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Commission in a press release.

A Wisconsin-based activist group called Wolf Patrol, which composed an editorial in 2018 titled, Why Wisconsin Should Never Be Allowed to Manage Wolves Again, documented various episodes in the hunt and released a video that left many viewers stunned. In another piece published by Wolf Patrol, the group also claims that convicted poachers were participating in the hunt, and the website does name names.

Regarding the January delisting of gray wolves, Samantha Bruegger, Wildlife Coexistence Campaigner for WildEarth Guardians, laid it out this way in a press release:

Tragically, we know how this will play out when states ‘manage’ wolves, as we have seen in the northern Rocky Mountain region in which they were previously delisted. In Idaho, nearly 600 wolves were brutally killed in a one-year span from 2019-2020, including dozens of wolf pups. Last year in Washington, the state slaughtered an entire pack of wolves due to supposed conflicts with ranching interests. Without federal protections, wolves are vulnerable to the whims and politics of state management.

On Jan. 20, 2021, President Joe Biden issued a “List of Agency Actions for Review,” including “#10” under the Department of the Interior (DOI): “’Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Removing the Gray Wolf (Canis lupus) From the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife,’ 85 Fed. Reg 69778 (November 3, 2020).” The Center for Biological Diversity asserts that the USFWS, an underlying division of DOI, ignored Biden’s directive after receiving a letter from the agency’s Assistant Director for Ecological Services Gary Frazer, dated Jan. 28. In a press release, Brett Hartl, Government Affairs Director at the Center for Biological Diversity said this:

There is no way the [USFWS] followed President Biden’s directive and completed its review in just five business days. It’s baffling that they went rogue by not even waiting ‘til there was a new secretary of Interior to assess what happened under Trump. This is a slap in the face to the American public, who wants scientific integrity restored to the government and to ensure that wolves are protected ‘til they’re recovered across this country.

This isn’t the first time a state’s hunting program has faced ridicule for its lack of foresight and ill-thought-out wolf plans. Idaho had 570 wolves killed between July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020; over 450 of those deaths involved hunting and trapping according to the Idaho Press. In 2014, hunting in Montana resulted in a 12 percent reduction in the population after a six-month season. Oregon’s wolf management plan includes killing any wolf that attacks livestock twice in a nine-month period — as if the animal is supposed to know that cattle and sheep are off-limits. In 2012, Wyoming established “predator zones,” which encompass approximately 75 percent of the state, where wolves may be shot on sight with few questions asked. In Montana, 246 wolves were harvested in 2016 to bring in revenue for the state’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks budget. Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and other western states have hosted wolf and coyote killing derbies in the past.

“The current status quo for wildlife management is unjust to people and wildlife, often cruel, and largely without scientific merit as our work has proven since 2014,” said Dr. Alan Treves, Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, in an email to EnviroNews. Treves is also the Founder of the Carnivore Coexistence Lab.

Wisconsin intends to open another wolf season on Nov. 6, 2021 “while simultaneously working towards completing a wolf management plan to guide management decisions beginning in 2022.” Two separate groups of NGOs have sued to challenge the USFWS’ delisting of the gray wolf, but the damage is already being done while they await their day in court.

WDNR failed to respond to EnviroNews on whether more wolves had been reported killed since its most recent update.

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