Wisconsin DNR resists starting wolf hunt immediately

State Department of Natural Resources officials pushed back Friday against Republican legislators seeking to immediately implement a wolf season, saying a hunt is already scheduled for November and they need time to gather input and set quotas.

DNR Deputy Administrator Todd Ambs told the department's policy board during a meeting that a season is coming and the department needs time to gather input and set quotas. He said there’s no reason to launch a hunt right now.

"We do not believe this is an emergency nor does it require (board) action today," Ambs said. "We’re committed to a science-based process. We believe this is our public trust responsibility."

State Sen. Rob Stafsholt, part of the group of Republicans seeking an immediate hunt, countered that the DNR should have been ready to go with a hunt since the Trump administration had been planning to delist wolves for nearly a year. He noted that state law requires the DNR to resume the seasons if wolves lose their federal protections.

He argued that Wisconsin taxpayers are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to compensate farmers for wolf attacks on livestock and the wolf population can easily sustain a hunt, noting that the DNR’s population goal is 350 animals and the department currently estimates around 1,000 wolves roam the state. He said the DNR is trying to stall in hopes that wolves will be relisted before November.

"No new science is needed," Stafsholt said. "The wolf population has grown consistently each year since 2014."

It was unclear whether the board would take any action. The wolf hunt has been one of the most contentious environmental issues Wisconsin has wrestled with over the last 20 years; nearly 50 people were set to testify at the meeting.

Speakers included representatives from half-a-dozen of Wisconsin's Native American tribes; all of them said they opposed rushing into a hunt. Douglas Cox, vice chairman of the Menominee tribe, said the wolf is sacred to the tribe's creation beliefs. Other opponents questioned starting a season during wolves' breeding season, which runs from February to March.

Supporters argued the DNR doesn't need to gather any new data. The only thing that's changed is the wolf population has grown, putting livestock and pets in more danger, they said.

Ryan Klussendorf, a Medford dairy farmer, said wolves have been preying on his livestock for a decade and have started stalking children at bus stops. He said he's tired of listening to people from urban settings like Madison and Milwaukee talk about wolves' beauty and the harmony of nature while he's living a "daily nightmare."

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"The natural world is brutal and less than picturesque," he said. "It’s time to set this hunt now. "

The DNR held three wolf seasons from 2012 to 2014 after then-President Barack Obama's administration removed Great Lakes wolves from the endangered species in late 2011. Republican legislators passed a law the following April mandating a hunt. The DNR halted the hunts after the 2014 season when a federal judge re-listed Great Lakes wolves. Former President Donald Trump's administration removed them again this month.

According to department estimates, the number of wolves in the state has grown from 815 in 2012 to 1,034 last year. The DNR estimates 256 packs roamed the state in 2020. The agency paid out $2.7 million in wolf depredation payments between 1985 and 2020, with $1.8 million of that paid out from 2011 through last year.