Wisconsin is ending its wolf hunt today, closing the last of six hunting and trapping zones three months early because the quota for wolf kills has already been exceeded. The hunt began on October 15 and was scheduled to run through the end of February.
Minnesota, too, announced closure yesterday, on December 4, of one of its three hunting and trapping zones after hitting the state’s target number. Some hailed the hunt, which was controversial in both states, as a sign that wolf numbers have rebounded significantly.
“That there can be a hunting and trapping season is evidence of the tremendous success of the recovery program,” according to David MacFarland, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources carnivore specialist.
Others felt differently.
“I feel that the only reason a person would hunt a wolf is bragging rights,” said Nigaanigiizhig (Jim St. Arnold), Ojibwe elder and the Traditional Environmental Knowledge (TEK) coordinator for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission in Odanah, Wisconsin. “They can't eat the meat of a wolf, they can only have a trophy.”
In Wisconsin about 80 percent of the wolves taken are by trapping. There is no limit on the number of traps set, but a trapper can only kill one wolf. Any other live-trapped wolves must be released. In Minnesota, which has an early hunt with guns only and a later hunt with shooting and trapping, about 50 percent of the kill is from traps.
The gray wolf has been delisted as an endangered species in several regions, and six states have since enacted wolf hunts. The total population of gray wolves in the lower 48 states is estimated at about 5,500, according to the International Wolf Center, and the population in Alaska is estimated at 8,000 to 11,000. Within the Great Lakes region, most tribes have officially opposed any recreational hunting or trapping of wolves, including the 11 member tribes of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission.
“As a member of the Wolf clan, I was taught that the wolves are my brothers and sisters. They are my teachers and protectors,” said St. Arnold. “As such, it is important for me to do what I can to protect them as I would any member of my family.”
Controversy is arising in states like Wisconsin, where the target quota set by the DNR is being exceeded. This year, while the overall quota of 150 wolves was only exceeded by four wolves as of the morning of December 5, the number of wolves killed in one zone—29—was nearly double the 15 that had been permitted, and the season was closed in that zone three days after it opened. It continued in the other five until December 5.
“The overage is a reminder that the State of Wisconsin is still really operating on its learning permit when it comes to harvesting wolves,” said Peter David, Great Lakes Commission’s wildlife biologist, in a recent agency publication.
The Wolf and Wildlife Action Group, a national advocacy organization, will hold a protest on December 8 at the state Capitol steps and at Governor Scott Walker’s office, according to The Capital Times of Madison.
In Michigan during the November elections, voters rejected two wolf-hunting laws earlier enacted by the state legislature. However, the legislature, in anticipation of those votes and working with a hunting coalition, enacted a third wolf hunt law before the vote, too late for it to be placed on the ballot. Though wolf hunting remains on the books in Michigan, the actual hunt was canceled this year by the state Department of Natural Resources because of the ballot initiatives.
In Minnesota, the only state outside of Alaska that retained a reproducing population of wolves when they became extinct elsewhere, a 2013 poll commissioned by the conservation group Howling for Wolves showed that 66 percent of respondents felt that a recreational wolf hunt was unnecessary, since wolves already can be killed legally by landowners if they are attacking pets, people or livestock.
Minnesota estimates its wolf population at 2,400, down from a peak of 3,020 in 2004. This year the natural resources department has set a kill quota of 250 wolves in three zones. Last year the quota was 220, but 238 animals were killed. The first year of the state hunt, the quota was set at 400, and 413 wolves were killed. The higher quota for that first year was based on estimates taken several years earlier, according to Dan Stark, carnivore specialist for the Minnesota natural resources department. The kill quota averages about 10 percent of the estimated population. Should the state’s wolf population fall below 1,600, the hunt would need to be reevaluated under the state’s wolf management plan.
Not all people support increased populations of gray wolves. In Washington State, which does not currently have a hunt, ominous billboards have gone up warning, “the Wolf … Who’s Next on Their Menu” with images of elk, deer, cattle, dogs and a child on a swing have been commissioned by Washington Residents Against Wolves, The New York Times reported on December 3. A study by Washington State University, published this week in the journal PLOS ONE, showed that depredation of livestock increased, rather than decreased, when wolves were killed to stop attacks.
There have been rare cases of unprovoked wolf attacks against humans, but generally healthy wolves avoid interaction with humans though pets can be at risk.
For the Anshinaabe people especially, the fate of the wolf—ma’iingan—is important.
“There are a few stories about the wolves and our people,” St. Arnold said. “One talks about how the Creator instructed the first Anishinaabe to names those things that didn’t have a name. Knowing that the man would be lonely, the Creator asked the wolf to travel with the man as a companion. During their journey they became as close as brothers, and the wolf taught many things to the Anishinaabe man: how to look for food, how to take care of his family, how to watch the world around him, and many other things. After their journey, the wolf knew he had to walk his own path again. As he started to leave, he told the Anishinaabe man that because of their travels, many talks and the bond they had formed, they were like brothers. He, the wolf, told the man that he would always be there to teach him when he looked, and that as brothers, what happened to one would happen to the other. As one survived, so would the other.”
Even those who support hunting as an activity do not necessarily support the trophy hunting of wolves, he continued.
“To say that hunting a wolf is no different than hunting a moose or deer, in my opinion, is wrong,” St. Arnold said. “I was taught that each of the animals offer us gifts. The deer and moose offer their bodies as food and medicine, their skin as clothes. The wolf offers his wisdom and knowledge. Why would you want to destroy wisdom and knowledge?”