The Department of Natural Resources plans to ask its board next week to limit the total 2014-15 kill to 156 wolves and again issue permits equal to 10 times the quota, or 1,560 permits. That's down sharply from last year's 251-animal, 2,510-permit parameters. The DNR could reduce the quota even more depending on the state's Chippewa tribes.
DNR Wildlife Management Bureau Director Tom Hauge said the agency wants to back off for several reasons.
The first two seasons accomplished the agency's goals of halting the wolf population's growth and starting to reduce the animals' numbers, he said. The DNR estimates 660 to 689 wolves were roaming the state late this winter, down from 809 to 824 animals in 2012-13.
The DNR's goal is 350 animals, but the agency doesn't want to take a "pedal to the metal" approach because hunting's effects on wolves are still not fully understood, Hauge said. Hunters exceeded the 251-animal quota last year by six animals, he added, and the DNR wants to study the effects of such a successful season on the population.
"Learning as we go is the way most biologists prefer to go about this," Hauge said. "Maintaining a sustainable wolf population is absolutely job number one for the department. In comparison to turkeys and deer and more abundant species, the margin of error is smaller when you have a population numbering in the hundreds."
The DNR's board is set to consider the quota at a meeting in Milwaukee on June 25. If it's approved, the state's six Chippewa tribes would then have an opportunity to declare how many wolves tribal hunters want to kill in the ceded territory, a huge swath of northern Wisconsin the Chippewa handed over to the federal government in the 19th century.
The tribes are entitled to half of the total quota in the ceded territory. Under the DNR's proposal, that quota would be 129 wolves. Tribal hunters would have the exclusive right to kill up to 65 of them. That would mean non-tribal hunters and trappers could take the remaining 91 wolves.
But the Chippewa oppose hunting wolves because they see the animal as a spiritual brother and tribal hunters haven't taken a single wolf during the first two seasons. Even so, the DNR likely will reduce the statewide quota by some amount to offset any potential tribal take, Hauge said. Last year, for example, the agency originally proposed a 275-animal quota but reduced it to 251 to allow the Chippewa to take 24 wolves just in case the tribes changed their mind.
Sue Erickson, a spokeswoman for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, which oversees the Chippewa's off-resrevation treaty rights, had no immediate comment.
Melissa Smith, organizer of Friends of Wisconsin Wolves, a wolf advocacy group, said she was glad to see the DNR is moving cautiously. The agency is "just playing and guessing" about the hunt's impacts, she said.
"It's certainly better news than last year," she said. "(But) it's still a higher quota than pro-wolf advocates would like. We would like to see no trophy or recreational hunting of wolves."