MADISON — Hunters and trappers would be allowed to kill dozens more wolves during Wisconsin's second wolf hunt this fall, under new quotas released Tuesday by state wildlife officials.
Department of Natural Resources officials say the new quotas will help shrink the state's burgeoning wolf population to what they think is its ideal size of 350 animals. But the plan promises to incur the wrath of conservationists and wolf lovers who are still bristling after last year's inaugural season.
"They are too delicate of a species to have a general hunt," Melissa Smith, organizer of Friends of Wisconsin Wolves, wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "I haven't seen any consideration of science or people who wish to see wolves alive rather than dead."
The DNR's proposal calls for a statewide quota of 275 wolves across six zones for the hunt, which is set to begin in mid-October and run through the end of February. The state's Chippewa tribes would be entitled to 115 of those wolves, leaving 160 for nontribal hunters and trappers. The agency wants to issue 2,750 permits, or 10 permits for every wolf.
That compares with a statewide total of 201 wolves and 2,010 permits last year. The Chippewa were entitled to 85 wolves, but the tribes are adamantly opposed to hunting wolves and didn't kill a single one. The DNR closed the season two months early in December after nontribal hunters and trappers took 117 wolves, which exceeded their quota by one.
DNR Ecology Section Chief Bill Vander Zouwen said the DNR is trying to reduce the state's wolf population to 350 animals and that last year's hunt did little to shrink it. The DNR estimated that as many as 834 wolves roamed the state this winter, which was down from as many as 880 last winter.
If the new quota is reached, the number of vehicle collisions and illegal kills remains unchanged from 2012, and depredation kills decrease by half to reflect fewer wolves, humans would have killed about 44 percent of the total population in 2013, the DNR estimated. Achieving the kill quota alone could reduce the population by up to 23 percent, according to University of Wisconsin-Madison models cited in a DNR memo to the agency's board.
"We do want to make some progress reducing the wolf population," Vander Zouwen said.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed a law in April 2012 establishing a wolf hunt in the state. The law pulled out all the stops, allowing night hunting and the use of dogs.
The hunt quickly evolved into one of the most contentious outdoor issues Wisconsin has grappled with since the discovery of chronic wasting disease in its deer herd in 2002. Farmers tired of wolves preying on their livestock applauded the hunt. But conservationists and animal rights advocates complained the state's wolf population is fragile. They say Wisconsin hunters already have enough animals to kill.
A group of humane societies filed a lawsuit challenging provisions of the law that allow dogs to track wolves; a Dane County judge ultimately decided to allow hunters to use dogs during the season but forbid them from training dogs on wolves.
The Chippewa, for their part, see the wolf as a spiritual brother.
The tribes have the right to harvest at least half of the quota for any animal hunted in the ceded territory, 22,400 square miles across northern Wisconsin the tribes gave to the government in early 1800s. Besides sparing the 85 wolves allotted to them last year, the tribes claimed they had the right to every wolf in the territory ó an argument the DNR rejected.
The tribes also tried to launch a night deer hunt in the face of the DNR's long-standing ban on the practice, arguing tribal hunters should get to kill deer at night since state hunters can take wolves in the dark. A federal judge blocked the night deer hunt but the case is still pending. A provision in Walker's 2013-15 budget would eliminate night wolf hunting, weakening the tribes' position.
Sue Erickson, a spokeswoman for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, which oversees the Chippewa's off-reservation rights, reiterated the tribes believe people shouldn't kill wolves for sport, but she declined to comment on the new quotas.
The DNR's proposal follows the recommendations of the agency's wolf advisory committee, a group of stakeholders that includes representatives from GLIFWC, the Conservation Congress, the state bear hunters and cattlemen associations and the Timber Wolf Alliance. Hunt opponents complained that the committee had little scientific basis for its quota of 275 animals.
"It's just a demonstration of how aggressive Wisconsin is," one of the humane societies' attorneys, Jodi Habush Sinykin, said. "There seems to be no adherence to conservative wildlife practices."
The DNR's Vander Zouwen, who leads the wolf advisory committee, said the group reviewed research from around the country on the human impact on wolves. He said the panel wants a sustainable wolf population.
"I would consider that pro-wolf," he said, "but I understand some people don't think any should be killed."
The DNR's board is scheduled to take up the proposal at a meeting June 26 in Wausau. The board's chairman, Preston Cole, was noncommittal about the plan, saying he wants to understand how the DNR arrived at its numbers.
"We're cautious in our approach," Cole said. "We know this is an emotional topic for a lot of folks."