MADISON, Wis. — The state's wolf population may be stabilizing after decades of growth, according to a report from the Wisconsin Department of Resources.
Volunteer trackers reported between 900 and 950 wolf sightings this winter, a slight decline compared to the numbers from the previous year, Wisconsin Public Radio reported .
"It's a sign that wolves may be stabilizing in the state, but given the nature of the data it's really going to take additional years to fully understand whether or not this was an annual blip or if this is actually an indication that wolves are stabilizing in Wisconsin," said Scott Walter, a large carnivore ecologist with the DNR.
The state's official wolf population goal is 350 animals, Walter said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the animals from the federal Endangered Species Act in 2011, allowing Wisconsin lawmakers established a wolf hunt. A federal judge returned wolves to the endangered species list in 2014.
Walter said he believes the state has a secure wolf population. However, they remain federally protected because of a number of court challenges that arose when wolves were previously delisted, he said.
"That takes management, unfortunately, out of the hands of the DNR and really limits our ability to respond to things like livestock depredations," Walter said.
Some Wisconsin lawmakers are seeking to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it's collecting data that could result in a proposal to remove wolves from the list.