The disappointment that resonated across the country on a recent day, originating from Madison, Wis., didn't concern the firing of Badgers football coach Paul Chryst, following a home loss to Illinois, of all embarrassments.
Instead, the long faces that were seen nationwide were those of wolf advocates bummed by news that the "slaughter'' of wolves during a thrown-together three-day Wisconsin hunt in February 2021 wasn't a slaughter after all.
An abomination, yes, given that the hunt was a court-ordered scramble organized at the last moment.
But not a slaughter.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the state's wolf population is down this year by only 14% from a year ago — and that might be a stretch.
Therein should lie a lesson for everyone, no matter their opinion about wolves and whether they should be hunted, specifically that:
Absent being poisoned, as was widely practiced by the U.S. government a century ago — often by placing strychnine-laced cubes of animal fat in horse and other carcasses strewn across the countryside — wolves, as populations, can readily withstand any legal, modern means of control, meaning regulated hunting and trapping.
Given their druthers, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources wouldn't have held a wolf hunt in February 2021, preferring one instead in late fall that year, the same time it sponsored wolf hunts in 2012, 2013 and 2014, before the animal regained federal protection in 2015.
But after U.S. management of wolves was lifted in the final months of the Trump presidency, a Kansas-based hunting group sued the Wisconsin DNR, saying state law required it to hold a hunt.
Less than three days into the highly publicized February skirmish that followed, 218 wolves had been killed by state-licensed hunters, or about 100 more than had been allocated under a 200-animal quota with the state's Ojibwe tribes (who didn't hunt).
The excess wolves were killed, the DNR said, because Wisconsin state law requires hunters to have 24-hour notice before a season ends, thus hindering the agency's ability to put the brakes on the hunt once the rapid harvest pace was realized.
Propelling the harvest, in part, was pent-up frustration felt among many northern Wisconsin residents that the state's apex predator had grown in number far beyond its "recovered'' population goal.
Some Wisconsin bear hunters who hunt with dogs were especially bitter. They had lost 40 of their hounds to wolf attacks in 2016.
When wolves returned to Wisconsin in the mid-1970s, they were listed as a state endangered species. A recovery plan begun in 1989 established 80 animals as the number that would reclassify them as "threatened.'' By 1999 the Wisconsin wolf population was 197, and a state management plan that year set a goal of 350 wolves.
Before last year's hunt, the Wisconsin DNR estimated the state held 1,100 wolves, or about four times higher than in the year 2000.
Increased wolf attacks on pets and depredation of livestock accompanied the rising wolf numbers, and while claims and rumors of these and similar losses are at times exaggerated, they nevertheless contributed to anti-wolf sentiment — as similar attacks have hardened feelings among some residents of central and northern Minnesota, where nearly three times the number of wolves roam than in Wisconsin.
Yet if a similar, impromptu wolf hunt were held in Minnesota in February or any other month, it's likely far fewer than 218 wolves would be killed.
That's because dogs aren't allowed for use in wolf (or bear) hunting in Minnesota, as they are in Wisconsin. And running dogs can be highly effective, especially, as was the case in Wisconsin in February 2021, when they are in prime condition following a long winter of coyote hunting.
By nearly all accounts, the Wisconsin hunt was a public relations disaster, for hunters and hunting, certainly, and perhaps especially, and unfortunately, for the Wisconsin DNR, which had been forced to hold the hunt when it did.
Nevertheless, the outcome decidedly wasn't a "massacre,'' as some news outlets reported. Wisconsin's wolf population this year is estimated at 972, down from the 1,100 or so a year ago, but still far above its "recovered'' status.
Knowledgeable wolf researchers weren't surprised by the Wisconsin wolves' resiliency, especially in light of what occurred last year with wolves in Montana and Idaho.
Both states liberalized wolf hunting methods and quotas in 2021 in response to some residents' demands to reduce livestock depredation and the killing by wolves of game animals, particularly elk.
Montana, for example, last year allowed wolf hunters to buy 10 licenses, allowed trappers to kill 10 wolves on a single license, lengthened the wolf trapping season and for the first time allowed baiting, night hunting on private property and snaring of wolves.
Yet the state's wolf kill in 2021-2022 was generally unchanged from 2020-2021.
(Notably, however, on the north edge of Yellowstone Park, more than 20 wolves were killed, mostly in Montana, where in previous years only a handful was allowed to be taken. Many of these wolves, as it turned out, had migrated from the park, and their killing resulted in an uproar and a significantly reduced quota this year in the same area.)
All of which brings us to Minnesota, where, as in Wisconsin and also Michigan, wolves for the time being are federally protected and no hunting or trapping is allowed.
That likely will change, however, and perhaps sooner than later, prompting, if past is prologue, a cacophony of irrationality on both sides of the hunting/no hunting debate, in which the reasoned voices of professional wildlife managers likely will be drowned out.
Those voices will ask:
Want moose to recover in northeast Minnesota?
Then wolf numbers must be reduced somewhat in that region.
Want deer populations to recover in certain parts of central and northern Minnesota, where wolves and occasional tough winters have combined to keep their numbers low?
Then wolf numbers must be reduced somewhat in those areas.
Want livestock depredation to occur less frequently in certain regions of central and northern Minnesota?
Then wolf numbers must be reduced somewhat in those areas.
Will it happen?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Either way, wolves will do what they do. And survive.