By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A member of the Department of Natural Resources policy board suggested Wednesday that the agency’s new wolf management plan shouldn’t include a specific population goal and instead lay out metrics indicating whether the population should be reduced or allowed to grow.
The department’s current wolf management plan dates back to 1999 and lays out a population goal of 350 animals. The wolf population in Wisconsin has grown substantially since then. The DNR’s latest estimates, compiled over the winter of 2019-20, put the population at around 1,030.
Wolf hunt supporters have held up the 350-animal goal as justification for higher quotas.
The DNR hopes to finalize a new wolf management plan by June. Board member Greg Kazmierski pressed the agency’s large carnivore specialist, Larry Johnson, during a meeting Wednesday on whether the plan will include a numeric population goal.
Johnson said he didn’t have an answer, saying stakeholder groups working on the plan differ on whether it should include a numeric goal or lay out criteria on when the agency should work toward reducing or growing the population.
Kazmierski said no one believes the DNR’s population estimates and pushed for the plan to lay out triggers for broadly declaring when the population needs to grow or shrink. The agency has adopted similar approaches for managing deer and bears, he said.
He asked Johnson if federal wildlife officials would accept a numberless approach. Johnson said he didn’t know but he believes they simply want a healthy population.
Dane County Circuit Judge Jacob Frost blocked this past fall’s wolf hunt amid complaints from conservationists that hunters killed too many animals during a rushed spring hunt. Frost said his order would remain in place until the DNR updates its wolf management plan.
Wisconsin law mandates annual wolf hunts held between November and February when the wolf isn’t on the federal endangered-species list.
Then-President Donald Trump’s administration delisted the animal effective in January 2021.
The DNR was preparing for a November start to the hunt when Hunter Nation, a hunter advocacy group, won a court order forcing a February start. The agency set the kill limit at 119 wolves but hunters blew past it, killing 218 in just four days, bringing the season to an early end.