STEVENS POINT, Wis. - The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' board unanimously approved the framework for this fall's wolf hunt Tuesday despite complaints from hunters and farmers that the kill quota is too low to reduce the burgeoning population.
The DNR released a temporary rules package earlier this month that set the harvest limit at 201 animals, nearly a quarter of the state's population. Hunters looking for a new challenge and farmers seeking relief from wolf attacks on their livestock immediately complained the number was too low, pointing out the DNR has estimated as many as 880 wolves may roam the state, far exceeding the department's goal of 350.
Conservationists and animal lovers, though, countered Wisconsin's wolf population is still fragile. They argued the kill goal is too high and the hunt combined with other wolf deaths could devastate the species in the state. DNR officials acknowledged the quota is low, saying they want to move cautiously in the hunt's first year. That gave hunt opponents even more ammunition to claim the rules were rushed and the hunt is fraught with uncertainty.
Dozens of people from both sides spent close to five hours arguing their cases in front of the board during a public hearing at a Stevens Point hotel. The board adopted a motion calling for the DNR to gather as much data as possible from the season that it can consider as it crafts permanent regulations, then signed off on the temporary plan. Hunters can start entering a drawing for permits Aug. 1.
"I am not uncomfortable with it," board Chairman David Clausen said after the vote. "I'm not going to say (the quota) is too high or too low. Hopefully we'll be a lot smarter and more experienced by next year."
Farmers have been complaining for much of the last eight years about Wisconsin's resurgent wolf population attacking their animals. Since 2006, the DNR has verified wolf-related losses on more than 200 farms.
Days after President Barack Obama's administration removed Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin wolves from the federal endangered species list Republican legislators proposed a bill establishing a hunt. The measure laid out most of the parameters for the hunt: It will run from Oct. 15 through the last day in February, permits will cost state residents $100 and hunters can use bows, guns, crossbows, dogs, bait and traps and hunt at night. Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed the bill into law in April.
Under the DNR's temporary rules, hunters can kill 201 wolves across six management zones, with higher sub-quotas in zones where wolves have done the most damage. The rules prohibit hunts on five federally-recognized American Indian reservations, including the Bad River, Red Cliff, Lac Courte Oreilles, Lac du Flambeau and Menominee, that support packs. The board added the Stockbridge-Munsee reservation to that list Tuesday.
The DNR would make 2,010 permits available, although the state's six Chippewa tribes have the right to 50 percent of the permits issued in the so-called ceded territory, 22,400 square miles across the northern section of the state the tribes handed over to the federal government in the 1800s.
The rules enflamed what has already been one of the most contentious wildlife issues Wisconsin has seen in years. Nearly 100 people attended the board meeting Tuesday.
Northern Wisconsin residents told the board they're afraid of wolves. Annette Olson, who runs a cattle farm in Glenwood City, she's come upon mauled calves and has taken to placing donkeys in her pasture to ward off wolves. She demanded the DNR get tougher and take the population down to 350 wolves.
"We have been placed in a situation where we have to spend extra money and time to care for our animals," she said.
Laurie Groskopf of the town of Harrison, near Tomahawk, told the board people are sick of wolves.
"People are afraid to go for a walk with their dog," she said. "Your kids can't camp out in the yard. They can't go biking on a rural road. The threat is always there."
Hunt opponents, including the Sierra Club and the Timber Wolf Alliance, told the board the DNR is being too aggressive. They argued the hunt coupled with other wolf deaths, such as in car-wolf crashes, wolf-on-wolf fights and disease, could create drastic dips in the population.
"I don't think killing 24 percent of Wisconsin's population of wolves fresh off the endangered list is conservative," Lynn White of Clintonville told the board. She wore a T-shirt to the meeting featuring bears and wolves curled up in sleeping bags above the message, "All Creatures Need a Place to Rest Their Heads."
"There's no justification for a quota that high," she said later. "What is the emergency? They don't go after human beings. (The hunt is) for fun and recreation more than anything else."
Bob Welch, speaking on behalf of the Hunters Rights Coalition, said the group wishes the kill limit was higher. He called the idea that hunters would wipe out Wisconsin's wolves "ludicrous."
"Hunters are going to become the strongest advocates for wolves because they're a trophy species," he said. "That's how it's worked with every other species."