The state Department of Natural Resources has finalized recommendations for Wisconsin’s first gray wolf hunting and trapping season.
The DNR used input from public hearings in making a final recommendation to the state’s Natural Resources Board. The NRB is expected to approve a final wolf-management plan on July 17.
The season would run from Oct. 15 through the end of February. Hunters and trappers would have a month beginning Aug. 1 to apply for licenses.
Licenses will be $100 for residents and $500 for nonresidents. There is a $10 application fee. Successful applicants would receive licenses in September.
Half the licenses will be issued under a random drawing, and half will be issued using a preference system like those in place for bear and bobcat. State law requires that all harvested wolves be registered with the DNR.
The agency made a handful of changes in its management plan since conducting a series of public hearings around the state last month.
Wildlife officials are recommending issuing licenses at 10 times the harvest quota.
Earlier, the DNR had recommended issuing tags at a 5-to-1 ratio, which assumes a hunter success rate of 20 percent.
“We’ve been collecting other data ... we thought 20 percent was a bit high,” said Kurt Thiede, the DNR’s Lands Division administrator.
The harvest goal will be 201 wolves, which is at the upper end of the original goal of 142 to 233 animals. That would translate to 2,010 hunters this year.
Thiede said tribal preferences will have to be considered before licenses are issued. Wisconsin Indian tribes will be allowed to declare up to 50 percent of approved quotas within the boundaries of ceded territory. Tribal declarations are expected sometime in August.
The DNR has been seeking a hunting and trapping season for years as a way to deal with nuisance animals. The state’s wolf population has grown from 25 animals in 1980 to 815 today. Some of the animals have caused livestock damage in agricultural areas, and some have attacked pets.
The Legislature moved quickly to establish a hunting season once the wolf was removed from the federal endangered species list earlier this year. The DNR’s wolf-management plan now calls for a goal of 350 animals statewide.
“We’re not going to get there this year, and we know that,” Thiede said. “This is year one, and we have many years of management ahead of us.”
Thiede said wolf-management zones have been simplified. The DNR is proposing six zones. Five areas of tribal lands will be considered no-harvest zones. Thiede said that wolves that have more than half of their range on these tribal lands are not considered when establishing quotas.
Most of Oneida County, except the southeast corner, would be part of Zone 2, where a harvest of 35 wolves is recommended. All of Vilas County, except tribal land, is in Zone 2, as is most of Forest County and all of Florence County. Zone 2, along with zones 1 and 5, are considered primary range, where the goal is to harvest 20 percent of the wolf population. Zone 5 includes the central forest.
Zones 3 and 4 southeast and southwest of Oneida County are considered secondary range, where there is a 40 percent harvest goal. And zone 6, which has an agricultural landscape and larger human populations, is considered marginal range. The harvest goal there is 75 percent.
Proponents regard the management plan as vital to the long-term survival of the wolf in Wisconsin. Wildlife biologists long have argued that an oversized wolf population will produce chronic depradation problems and eventually lead to widespread wolf poaching.
Chuck Dicka of The Hunter’s Headquarters sports shop in Woodruff is among those who are happy the wolf population is finally under state control.
“That’s a long-time coming,” he said.
He expects many area hunters will apply for licenses.
“I imagine there’s going to be a lot of guides around here that will take up the sport, especially the ones that hunt bears,” Dicka said.
He added that being able to use dogs means area hunters and guides who normally pursue bobcats and coyotes also will join the wolf hunt.
“I think there will be a lot of interest in the hunt,” Dicka said.
Kurt Justice of Kurt’s Island Sports in Minocqua said the wolf must be subject to “some type of checks and balances.”
“Wolves don’t have any natural predators,” he said.
Justice, noting that few people in the state have experience hunting wolves, doesn’t expect the success rate to be high in the first season.
“It will be interesting to see how it goes,” he said.
The public can still submit feedback on the plan, but must preregister to testify at the NRB meeting in Stevens Point no later than 4 p.m. July 12. Written comments must be received by then as well.
Craig Turk may be reached at email@example.com.