After two seasons hunting, the number of gray wolves in Wisconsin has declined, according to a preliminary report issued Tuesday by the state Department of Natural Resources. Wisconsin’s wolf population of between 658-to-687 as of late this winter is down from 809-to-834 at the same time a year ago. It’s the first major decrease in the Wisconsin wolf numbers since the DNR began tracking the species’ recovery in the state some 35 years ago, when Wisconsin had only 25 wolves.
The DNR’s Dave MacFarland told a Wolf Advisory Committee meeting in Wausau Tuesday that last season represented an effort to reduce “downward pressure” on the wolf population. Last fall’s hunt saw 257 wolves killed, down from 117 during the inaugural in late 2012.
The DNR set a population goal of 350 in 1999, but the numbers eventually far exceeded that, and the agency wanted to reduce the numbers to a “biologically and socially acceptable level.” The state was battling lawsuits to have the federal government keep Upper Midwest wolves as a protected, endangered species. The White House found a way to declassify them two-and-a-half years ago, allowing states the right to manage their herds and hold wolf hunts. The Humane Society of the United States balked at that, and has filed suit to restore federal protections. That suit is still pending.