Winnebago’s sturgeon just keep getting bigger

Madison — Despite court cases and lots of uncertainty, Wisconsin’s first wolf hunting and trapping season is in the books. The state can now look back on the 2012 season as plans are made for the 2013 season.

For the 2012 season, the state was broken into six wolf zones. These areas were created based on suitability of wolf habitat and potential for human conflict with wolves. Wolf licenses permitted taking a wolf by either hunting or trapping and were not method-specific. The season opened Oct. 15 and was scheduled to run until Feb. 28, but each zone closed when it was about to reach its quota. All six zones closed early. Licenses were good statewide and were not zone-specific.

First the DNR had to establish a wolf harvest quota.

“We looked at the population counts from the wolf track surveys,” said Bill Vander Zouwen, DNR Wildlife Ecology Section chief. “We identified what our goal would be and that was to begin to reduce the population toward our management goal of 350.

“We consulted with UW-Madison and they have a population model that predicts losses to emigration to places like Minnesota and Michigan, natural mortality, illegal kills, and things like that. We also had meetings around the state and talked about what people thought. Generally, people wanted either a very aggressive approach or a hands-off approach. We came up with a number – 201.”

Of the 201 wolves, the DNR made a quota of 116 wolves for non-Indian sportsmen, and a quota of 85 wolves for Chippewa tribal members in the ceded territory. However, none of the state’s six Chippewa tribes participated in the wolf season. Tribal members who wanted to pursue wolves entered the state wolf tag lottery.

“The six zones were based on human conflict with wolves,” Vander Zouwen said. “In the southern part we were trying to take a high percentage of the wolf population.”
The DNR tried to harvest 75 percent of the wolf population in Zone 6.

“In the Central Forest Region and the north we were trying to take 20 percent (in zones 1, 2, and 5),” Vander Zouwen said.

“Areas that were agricultural, but were pretty good wolf habitat, we chose a quota of 40 percent of the count (zones 3 and 4),” Vander Zouwen said. “That would be a 10- to 20-percent reduction in the wolf numbers (statewide).”

Assuming a 10-percent harvest success rate, the DNR made 1,160 tags available (10 times the harvest quota). A total of 19,793 residents and 478 nonresidents applied for wolf tags. The application fee was $10.

However, only 887 residents and six nonresidents who were drawn actually bought the wolf license (about 25 percent of those drawn did not buy a license). Resident wolf licenses cost $100, and nonresident licenses cost $500. Between application fees and wolf license sales, the total revenue collected by the DNR was $289,865.50.

Any revenue generated by the wolf hunt went first and foremost to depredation expenses – livestock and pet losses. USDA Wildlife Services was contracted for removing problem wolves. USDA removed 57 wolves.

Landowners with problem wolves could also receive depredation permits. A total of 129 such permits were issued, and 16 wolves were killed under the authority of these permits. Three additional wolves were killed in the act of depredation by landowners without permits.

Licensed hunters and trappers participating in the wolf season registered 117 wolves.

The DNR received 52 wolf depredation claims from April 16, 2012, through the end of the year. Three claims were denied due to ineligibility. Total compensation for the other 49 claims was $116,949.31 for loss of livestock and dogs.

Remaining money from applications and license sales funded wolf management, including radio telemetry studies, wolf surveys, cost of limited-term employees, and other expenses.

Things have been developing as Wisconsin looks ahead to the 2013 season. In early January, Dane County Circuit Court Judge Peter Anderson removed the injunction that banned the practice of hunting wolves with dogs (hunting wolves with dogs was not permitted during the 2012 season, due to this injunction). However, as of right now, it is not legal to run dogs on wolves for training. Whether this changes remains to be seen.

One of the biggest changes for this season could be the license fee.

“It’s in the governor’s budget,” Vander Zouwen said. “The governor is proposing it. He’s heard from people around the state (that) it’s too high for people at $100 for residents and $500 for nonresidents. Obviously, it’s much more than any other hunting license out there. He’s just being responsive to what he’s been hearing.”

Under the governor’s proposal, license fees would drop to $47 for residents and $249 for nonresidents. The application fee would remain at $10. Any license fee change would require legislative action, because the wolf season was set by law, not administrative code.

It’s hard to say what impact the reduced license fees would have on the revenue collected, which ultimately goes to pay for wolf depredation and management.

“I don’t know if more people will apply (because of the reduced license fee) or if the high hunter success rate will encourage people to apply,” Vander Zouwen said. “If we have more applications, regardless of the number of tags, that helps wolf management.”

When asked whether the lack of tribal participation in the season would result in more tags available to state hunters in 2013, Vander Zouwen said, “That’s going to be a controversial one. In the past, for other species, we have adjusted based on the harvest tribes have taken.”

It is unknown at this time if the state would allow more hunters and trappers access to tags that the tribes choose not to use.

Wolf count data from the 2012 season should be compiled by late April. The DNR Wolf Advisory Committee will be asked to develop quota recommendations in late April or May. The Natural Resources Board will establish a quota for this fall’s wolf season and determine how many licenses will be available in June.

Wolf season applicants should be aware that this year’s application deadline is Aug. 1. This is a change from last year, when the deadline was Aug. 31. Last year’s deadline was pushed back because it was July before the wolf season framework was set. The wolf season is scheduled to open Oct. 15. The DNR aims to adopt permanent wolf season rules in 2014.

The only stumbling block for the 2013 season at this point is a lawsuit filed in federal court by animal rights groups that’s aimed at putting Midwestern wolves back on the endangered species list. That lawsuit is pending.

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