Once again legalized sport killing of wolves has ended early in Minnesota and Wisconsin, with hunters and trappers exceeding state quotas at quite the brisk pace.
In Minnesota, the late season closed more than one full month ahead of schedule, on Dec. 28, as trappers and hunters filled the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources quotas in just 29 days — 12 fewer than last year. So much for the fiction that man is no match for elusive, wily Canis lupus.
The goal was reached so quickly in the northeastern zone that the season set to run through Jan. 31 closed on Dec. 18. Closure came for the northwestern zone on Dec. 27 and in the smallest, east-central zone a day later.
The overall quota this year had been set at 220, down from 400 in 2012; trappers and hunters reported taking 237 wolves. During the early, hunting-only season that coincides with the firearms deer season, 88 were taken. Of the 149 taken in the later season, three-fourths were killed by trappers.
In the final zone-by-zone tallies reported by the DNR, the take went over quota in the northeast zone by four wolves (37 against a target of 33) and by 14 in the northwest (103 against a target of 89). Only in the east-central zone did the take fall short, with nine wolves taken against a quota of 10.
Over in Wisconsin, where the management practices make Minnesota’s look conservative by comparison, a wolf season that was to run from mid-October to the end of February closed in the last of six zones on Dec. 23.
Trappers and hunters had reported taking 257 wolves by then, exceeding the statewide quota of 251, with trappers taking two wolves for every wolf shot by a hunter.
Hunters may do slightly better in Wisconsin than elsewhere because the Badger State, uniquely, allows hunters to use dogs to run down wolves for a portion of the season. According to a report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, hunters using dogs accounted for most of the wolves killed during that period, which began Dec. 2.
Bear in mind that Wisconsin set its quota based on a population estimate of 800 to 900, compared to Minnesota’s estimate of about 2,200 following the 2012 seasons, in which 413 wolves were reported killed by sport trappers and hunters.
Some details from a celebratory wrap-up Kevin Naze, a writer for the Gannett newspapers’ wisconsinoutdoorfun.com, who assumes this performance results not from hunter/trapper prowess but a gross underestimate of the Wisconsin wolf population by that state’s DNR:
Including the 2012-13 season totals, federal agent and landowner depredation kills, roadkills and wolves illegally shot, well over 500 of the controversial predators have been killed in Wisconsin the past two years.
In the 2013 season that opened Oct. 15 and closed Dec. 23, trappers reported taking 173 wolves. Gun hunters shot 83 and one bow hunter scored after two wolves came running to his deer bleat call while he was trying to lure a buck.
Incredibly, 183 wolves were taken the first 16 days. After a November slowed by five of the six zones reaching quota early — just 32 wolves were tagged the entire month — the harvest picked up in December, with 42 wolves in 23 days. Thirty-five of them were taken with the use of trailing hounds after that became legal Dec. 5 (sic), 20 of them alone between Dec. 20-23.
Michigan’s targeted program
Over in Michigan, which began its hunting-only sport season on wolves a year later than Minnesota and Wisconsin, the approach and results were quite different.
The state has a slightly smaller population to manage than Wisconsin’s — in the neighborhood of 650 — but permits hunting only in three small zones of the Upper Peninsula where game biologists have documented problems of wolf predation on pets or farm animals. Now that’s “conservative” management.
The Minnesota and Wisconsin DNRs both cite the need to reduce livestock losses as justification for wolf seasons but make no effort to actually focus hunting and trapping activity on problem areas. (All three states permit landowners to kill wolves that are preying on livestock, no license required.)
Michigan’s authorized season was much shorter, running from Nov. 15 through last Tuesday.
The combined quota for Michigan’s three zones was 43, and when I checked this morning only 23 wolves had been taken by hunters before the seasons closed.
Nevertheless, wolf hunting and the policy disputes it inspires remain a topic for the news pages in Michigan — also unlike Minnesota and Wisconsin, where coverage has pretty much subsided to the outdoors pages once again. From a report by the Detroit News’s capital correspondent, Gary Heinlein:
Jill Fritz, head of a Michigan group hoping to end wolf hunting after one season in Michigan, took small comfort in the fact that far fewer than 43 of the state’s 658 wolves would be killed. Her group aims to have two anti-wolf-hunt proposals on Michigan’s 2014 general election ballot.
Fritz said hunters are learning that, contrary to claims they’d attack kids at day care centers or playing outside at home, “wolves are shy, elusive creatures that will avoid human contact as much as possible.” Fritz and the Humane Society maintain wolf hunts are being held purely for sport and aren’t necessary to control the animals’ populations or prevent them from killing domestic animals.
Proponents of the wolf hunt say DNR experts such as biologist [Brian] Roell should be entrusted to make science-based decisions about what animals to hunt and how many should be killed. Roell said coming up short of the quota doesn’t signal the agency will raise the quota next year — should there be another hunt — or that it will permit trapping of wolves, as neighboring Minnesota and Wisconsin do.
“We’ll look at the effects,” he said. “Did we change the behavior of these animals? Did we have lower depredation?”
Little chance of change
Officials of the Minnesota DNR say they, too, will be reviewing this season’s results as well as a fresh population survey in setting the rules for next year’s seasons.
But nobody expects a significant rethinking of the department’s general approach, which is certainly informed by science but has always been driven by politics, particularly by political pressure from northern Minnesota.
Thus a litigation-proof regulatory regime in which the broad outlines are dictated by the Legislature and implementation left to a cooperative DNR, which reports in turn to a governor who, somewhat incredibly, takes the position that he has no say in the matter.
I happened to notice in passing the other day that the naked mole rat has been selected by Science magazine as its “vertebrate of the year.”
I know the odds are long, especially in this election year — but if somebody at DNR were willing to open up a genuine review of the past two seasons, in which the objections of hunting and trapping opponents are actually considered instead of dismissed, and wolf-killing’s benefits to livestock operations or any other larger public good are fairly assessed instead of merely assumed … well, I’d be proud to support his or her candidacy for the honor next year.