Wisconsin DNR and Natural Resources Board begin talks to decrease gray wolf harvest

Madison — Wisconsin wolf hunters and trappers learned quickly from the past two seasons. They – trappers mostly – harvested wolves much more quickly than during the past two seasons, which the DNR attributes to those with permits getting out earlier in pursuit of wolves.

As of Oct. 29, a total of 119 wolves were harvested out of a non-tribal quota of 150 animals. The quota initially was set at 156, but with a history of little to no harvest by the state’s six Chippewa tribes, the general quota was set at 150.

David MacFarland, DNR large-carnivore biologist, told the Natural Resources Board on Oct. 29 that the season was only two weeks in, having opened Oct. 15, and as of that date, two-thirds of the quota had been harvested – much of it within the first week.

There was an increase in the speed of the harvest this year. In the first seven days, 97 wolves (65 percent of the total quota) was harvested.

In 2012 at the same time, the harvest was only 15 percent of the quota. In 2013, 38 percent of the quota had been harvested after two weeks.

A total of 22 wolves were harvested during the second week of the season.

Zone 2 closed first, on the Saturday following the opener on Wednesday, Oct. 15.

Quotas were exceeded by four wolves in Zone 1, and 14 wolves in Zone 2. In response to going over the quota, MacFarland said the DNR initiated closure of Zone 4 and Zone 5, where the total harvest was five wolves under the quota.

Zones 3 and 6 remain open, and MacFarland is watching the harvest in relation to the quota.

“There also is a shift toward trapping, which represented 50 percent of the take in 2012, 70 percent of the harvest in 2013, and, at this time, represents 85 percent of the harvest this year,” MacFarland said.

The pace of the harvest strained the reporting system set out in statute by the Legislature when the season was created. That contributed to the quota being surpassed in two zones. Hunters and trappers are allowed 24 hours to report a harvest. The DNR must then give a 24-hour notice before a zone can be closed.

Because the pace of the harvest has picked up substantially this year, the DNR tried to close zones as quickly as possible, but the quick harvest pace and regulatory delays resulted in exceeded quotas in two units. The DNR is exploring ways to slow the harvest.

“We take the overages very seriously,” MacFarland said. “We’re exploring ways to prevent this from happening in the future. We have tools available under current rules to reduce the pace of the harvest and we’re going to explore those options prior to next season.”

Specific zones

In Zone 2, following the second day with six animals registered, the DNR tracked the harvest closely. On Oct. 17, registrations jumped from six to 12 and the DNR initiated zone closure. It ordered the closure for noon on Saturday, Oct. 18. During that interim period, another 17 wolves were registered, bringing the total to 29 wolves, 14 above the quota of 15 wolves in Zone 2.

Zone 1 was noticed for closure on Saturday, Oct. 18, with the realization that the quota in Zone 2 had been surpassed. At that time, 20 wolves had been registered in Zone 1 (quota of 32). When the zone closed on Sunday, Oct. 19, the harvest totaled 36 wolves, or four above the quota.

Zone 4 was noticed for closure when four of the eight-wolf quota were registered, so that the total harvest was five. Zone 5 was noticed for closed when 12 wolves were registered out of the quota of 20. That zone closed with 18 wolves harvested, or two below the quota.

Zones 3 and 6 remain open. As of Oct. 29, Zone 3 had a harvest of 15 wolves out of the quota of 40. Zone 6 had 16 of a 35-wolf quota on the books.

The DNR received 14,647 applications for wolf harvest permits this year, and 1,500 applicants received authorization to buy permits. About 1,100 permits were sold.

The NRB has asked the DNR to conduct carcass evaluations of wolves brought in for registration after the hound season opens to help determine if there is any interaction between wolves and dogs.

The DNR has developed a voluntary procedure, but MacFarland said that only 11 people volunteered to cooperate, and eight evaluations had been made of carcasses, showing no significant injuries to the wolves.

In the fall, five wolf trapping and aging education courses were held around the state. A total of 190 people attended, compared with 144 last year.

This year, the course included responsibilities when using hounds to hunt wolves.

NRB member Christine Thomas, of Stevens Point, asked about other ways to close zones in order to stay within the quota. MacFarland said ideas are being discussed, but those will be up to the DNR secretary.

Thomas also wondered about asking for legislative authority to shorten the time for registration when the season is closed to help remain within the quota. MacFarland said that was not discussed, though the DNR is looking at the authority is has now, such as faster reporting or putting controls in place to reduce the pace of harvest.

MacFarland acknowledged that, with the season closing so quickly, people with permits may not even have had a chance to get out and hunt or trap, and that is another reason to slow the pace of harvest.

NRB member Jane Wiley, of Wausau, asked how many collared wolves were harvested this year. MacFarland said that no collared wolves were taken.

NRB member Greg Kazmierski, of Pewaukee, suggested that instead of the DNR paying APHIS to trap problem wolves that the agency now allow trappers to catch those animals. MacFarland said it is possible, and officials are discussing that possibility for the wolf management plan.

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