“This season trampled over tribes’ treaty rights, the Wisconsin public, and professional wildlife stewardship,” a spokesperson for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission told The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
“It will go down as a stark example of mismanagement, and the problems that can be expected when the state Legislature and the courts embrace special interest groups over the public as a whole.”
Megan Nicholson, director of the Wisconsin chapter of the Humane Society of the United States, called the killing spree a “deeply sad and shameful week for Wisconsin.”
After the state lost a court case — and an appeal — this month against Hunter Nation of Kansas, a group that had demanded a rush on a wolf hunting season, state officials initially set the maximum kill number at 200. That’s nearly 20% of the state’s total wolf population.
But the number was reduced to 119 after the Ojibwe claimed their treaty rights to 81 of the animals. The Ojibwe consider the animals sacred and opposed the hunt.
“To many Ojibwe communities, hunting in late February, a time when fur quality is poor and wolves are in their breeding season, is regarded as especially wasteful and disrespectful,” the Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, which represents 11 Ojibwe tribes in the Midwest, said in a statement.
But the total number of wolves killed as of Thursday blew well past that cap, to 216. Even more kills may yet be reported.
Hunter Nation rushed to sue for the hunting and trapping season after wolves’ protections were eliminated when the Trump administration delisted the animals from the Endangered Species Act in January, just weeks before Donald Trump left office. GOP lawmakers backed the rush because they feared the Biden administration would reestablish protections for wolves.
The hunt began Monday and was supposed to run through Sunday. But the state Department of Natural Resources halted it on Wednesday afternoon when the body count skyrocketed. Hunters and trappers were given a 24-hour “grace period” allowing them to remain in the field until Thursday afternoon.
Officials said nearly 90% of the hunters used dogs to chase down the animals, and that fresh snow helped them track the wolves. Since the hunt occurred during breeding season, pregnant females were almost certainly among the dead. Forty-six percent of the animals killed were female, the Journal Sentinel reported.
The DNR had initially planned a hunt for November 2021, which would have given pups born in the springtime a chance to grow and would have allowed for a thorough assessment of the wolf population, as well as public input and planning.
DNR officials said on Thursday they were constantly monitoring the hunt numbers but admitted they had failed to stay on top of them.
“Should we ... have [closed the season] sooner? Yes,” DNR Wildlife Management Director Eric Lobner said at a press conference. “Did we go over? We did. Was that something we wanted to have happen? Absolutely not.”
Officials nevertheless insisted the wolves could survive the massive hunt.
But wildlife and environmental organizations experts warned that the state’s wolf population has not yet recovered and that a hunt like this could put the animals back on the road to extinction.
“You remove one [wolf], you’re essentially destabilizing and killing the entire pack,” Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf and Wildlife executive director Melissa Smith warned in an interview with the Wisconsin Public News Service.
“This hunt represents an unprecedented and extreme departure from sound, science-based wildlife practices,” Elizabeth Ward, director of the Wisconsin Sierra Club Chapter, said in a statement.
Hunter Nation called the outrage surrounding the 80% overkill of the wolves “hysteria.”
This was only the fourth wolf hunting and trapping season in the state’s history, and the first ever held during breeding season, according to the Journal Sentinel.
Wolves, which are native to the state, were wiped out by the mid-1900s due to unregulated hunting, poisoning and bounties. The species began recovering in the 1970s under increased protections.