Once again, wolf-killing seasons come to an early end and over the quotas

Trappers and hunters in Wisconsin reported taking 257 wolves, exceeding the statewide quota of 251.

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.

Wisconsin’s results

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.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/02/2014 - 10:41 am.

    It’s a puzzle

    Let me start by saying that – statistics aside – my own discomfort with an abundant wolf population is strictly personal. I have zero confidence that, were I to be out hiking alone in the late fall in a big park, and encountered a trio, say, of wolves, that I would not end up as a stringy, somewhat over-aged meal. I know that wolf attacks on humans are exceedingly rare, but “rare” is not the same as “nonexistent.” When out hiking, I tend to think of myself as a large, slow-moving, not-at-all-agile, meal. I have no particular affection for predators high up in the regional food chain, including wolves and cougars.

    With that little bit of background anxiety out of the way, I also confess that a wolf-hunting season makes no sense to me, especially if land owners already have legal authority to kill wolves (and, I presume, cougars as well) on their land that pose a threat to livestock. Were I still a farmer, I’d want that legal authority myself.

    However, is there credible evidence that significant wolf predation is taking place? Have any recent studies been done by people who don’t have – you’ll forgive the analogy – a dog in this fight? If there is, then it would make sense to have a wolf-hunting season focused on those areas where there have been significant livestock losses. As a non-hunting city-dweller, however, I’ve seen nothing in print to suggest that wolf predation is costing Minnesota farmers a substantial sum.

    Credible evidence that wolves are decimating the state’s population of deer might make wolf-hunting at least somewhat rational, since I’m aware that deer-hunting season is more than just a ritual in rural Minnesota. The state collects a lot of money from deer-hunting licenses and the sales tax that comes in with the purchase of a host of hunting-related items from clothing to grocery and restaurant sales in rural communities that cater to hunters, to weapons and their associated ammunition, so there’s certainly a fiscal incentive to keep the deer hunt going. If it can be shown that wolves are significantly reducing the state’s deer population to the point where it’s having an economic effect on the annual hunting season, there’d at least be a financial justification for a wolf hunt.

    I’ve seen no such evidence for damage to either state livestock or the state’s deer herd in normal media channels.

    Thus, if wolves aren’t having a damaging impact on either livestock or animals in the wild, and they’re not attacking humans, we permit hunting of them… why?

    Hunting wolves by any means, whether by rifle or trap, only makes sense if you’re going to eat them (I’ve seen no suggestion that wolves are being hunted for food), or you’re protecting family and livestock from a genuine threat. Since farmers already have the ability to kill wolves on their land, there doesn’t seem to be any justification, in a rational, moral sense, for non-farmers to kill or trap them. I’m not a vegetarian by any means, so it’s not often I find myself in a PETA frame of mind, but hunting wolves strikes me as simply barbaric. If they pose no significant threat to livestock or the state’s deer herd, or to Minnesota’s human population, then hunting and/or trapping wolves seems to be simply a case of blood lust. We kill ‘em because we can, or we like the idea of killing predators that prey on other animals, but do us no harm.

    I don’t personally see anything “sporting” or honorable about that.

  2. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 01/02/2014 - 12:03 pm.

    Trapping wolves is “sport”? How so?

    I shudder at the kind of human being that goes out to kill these beautiful (and harmless to humans unless cornered) animals, just because they have a gun or a trap, and CAN.

  3. Submitted by ANITA SEELING on 01/02/2014 - 03:45 pm.

    I am appalled

    I am absolutely appalled that this wolf hunt has not been stopped.

    I cannot believe the media failed to expose the improper methods used by the DNR. I mean, why bother to put forth procedures if you are not going to follow them? But then, the media let wing-nuts run roughshod over the dialog on the ACA, so what else is new?

    Here is the thing about the abject fallacy that protecting livestock is why this is necessary. This wolf hunt alleviates nothing of the sort. Livestock owners have always had the right to kill predatory wolves over and above the confines of this hunt.

    And, I am utterly disgusted that Dayton is going along with this.

  4. Submitted by Michael Chutich on 01/02/2014 - 05:24 pm.

    Time to save the wolves

    Thanks for running an objective article about the sport killing of wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. The Star Tribune has never run an article questioning the wolf hunt in a state where 79% of residents think wolves are an asset that should be protected. Who was the Minnesota legislature representing when it passed the wolf hunt in 2012? Not the majority of Minnesotans. The legislature needs to listen to us this session. The 5 year moratorium on wolf hunting needs to be reinstated. This will be difficult because of wolf hunt supporters like David Dill, who chairs the House committee on the environment and natural resources policy. Mr. Dill refuses to schedule the bill to reinstate the moratorium for a hearing before his committee. This is a blatant abuse of his position as chairperson of the committee. We need to overcome obstacles like Mr. Dill and other politicians who think killing wolves for sport is good policy. We can’t allow this immoral killing to continue for a third season.

  5. Submitted by Brian Nelson on 01/02/2014 - 07:50 pm.

    The Moose Are More Likely Concerned With…

    …winter ticks, liver flukes, and brain worm. The sort of things that make them more vulnerable to wolves. Sure, we can kill all of the wolves if it makes you happy, but what might prevent a moose from dying on a Tuesday won’t prevent the moose from dying of the other on a Friday. Looking around you might see that in places such as New Hampshire and the Pembina Hills are seeing significant moose declines even in the absence of wolves–moose displaying some of the same symptoms we see here in Minnesota. It seems that if we follow the anti-wolves logic most prey species would have gone extinct some time ago.

  6. Submitted by Jonathan Fribley on 01/02/2014 - 09:14 pm.

    Fear of Wolves

    Ray, it’s deer you should be afraid of, not wolves. You are thousands of times more likely to die in a deer-car collision than you are to be hurt by a wolf.

    In that sense, wolves are your friend. Car drivers, and the entire ecosystem, need wolves and mountain lions to bring down the deer population from the current levels. High deer populations such as we have – far higher than pre-settlement – alter ecosystems, killing some tree and other plant species by browsing heavily on them.

    We need wolves for our own good.

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/13/2014 - 11:33 am.


    I’ve been hiking and backpacking my whole life. Frankly, you don’t sound like you’re cut out for it. The most dangerous animal you’re likely to encounter in MN is actually a Moose. And you are are ten times more likely to get bit by a rabid raccoon or possum than torn to shreds by a pack of wolves. If this bothers you… you should probably stick to walking around the local lakes. I’ve seen wolves in the wild… and I’m here to write about it. Unless you think we should try to kill off all the moose, raccoons, and possums?

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/13/2014 - 11:41 am.

    There’s no compelling to kill wolves.

    The weirdest claim I hear is that somehow hunters are “revering” wolves when they hunt and kill them. Once can only hope such people don’t “revere” their parents the same way.

    At the very least, trapping should be prohibited. Any trap that can take a wolf could also kill a dog and we actually a lot more dogs running around in the woods than wolves most days. And there’s no getting around the fact that trapping is simply a cruel death delivery mechanism.

    Ray, I hope you realize my response to your post was a little tongue and cheek. But seriously, I don’t see any evidence that we have an abundance of wolves. It’s funny, I have friends who live up north and complain about the wolves even though they’ve never actually had any problems personally. I always ask them what they’re doing living up there if they want to deal with nature? I mean you choose to live to live in wolf habitat because you don’t like the city, and then you complain about the wolves?

  9. Submitted by Jeanne Rasmussen on 02/03/2014 - 11:55 am.

    Minnesota seems more scientifically educated than Idaho

    For the most part, these comments about wolves are right on and based on fact.
    Protecting your livestock from wolf predation makes sense but to have a hunting season for wolves is ludicrous. Killing an entire pack of wolves because one went astray and killed a cow is also misguided. As mentioned already, let us see some statistics on wolf predation numbers on livestock and deer. Is a wolf hunt warranted at all?
    Wolves are so vital to keeping deer numbers down and keeping the gene pool of the dear robust and healthy.
    The wolves are more afraid of you than you are of them and you would be very fortunate to even see one in the wild.
    Trapping should be outlawed, period. It’s cruel and inhumane treatment and it puts children and pets at risk of being injured. The sad stories I have heard about people outside walking their dog and having it get caught in a trap, or heaven forbid, a snare, is horrifying to the pet owner and potentially lethal to the dog.

  10. Submitted by Joe Smithers on 11/19/2014 - 01:21 pm.


    I had read an article earlier that put the quota in MN at 250 so 237 would be under quota. Wolf lovers should be rejoicing. As long as the DNR is going to continue to give deer hunters free reign then we will have to continue to keep the wolf population in check to keep livestock and other domesticated animals safe.

Leave a Reply