Timber wolves could be hunted again

January 17, 2008 7:32:55 AM PST

As many as 575 timber wolves roam the north woods and the population is growing about 12 percent annually, the state Department of Natural Resources estimates. The state's management strategy calls for hunting if the population exceeds 350 animals.

The state now allows landowners to trap problem wolves and shoot them if they're in the act of attacking a pet or livestock. In 2007, three wolves were shot and 37 trapped and euthanized, the DNR says.

The Conservation Congress, a citizens' advisory group to Natural Resources board members, wants a permanent solution, said Ed Harvey, the group's chairman. It will pose a question to its members on April 14 whether a hunting season should be set, and will pass its recommendations along to the DNR or lawmakers.

Grouse hunter Ron Waller of Eagle River said wolves are all over his part of the state, and a face-to-face encounter with a wolf ruined one hunt last fall. If the state doesn't act now, he said, "People are just going to start taking things in their own hands."

Timber wolves are endangered in most states, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in March 2007 decided the population was stable in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota and removed them from the endangered list there. Conservation groups have sued to get the species back on the list.

Alaska is the only state that permits wolf hunts, said Adrian Wydeven, head of the Wisconsin DNR's wolf management program.

If the Legislature approves wolf hunts, the DNR would develop rules for them. In that case, the number of hunters and the number of wolves killed would be extremely limited, Wydeven said.

Jim Olson, who works on wolf issues for the Wisconsin Sierra Club, said the state's current management methods are working.

Wolf packs have established territories, which reduces attacks on livestock, he said. Hunting would destroy the pack structures, sending animals wandering outside their territory and causing more problems, he said.

"Leave well enough alone," Olson said.

Federal officials are monitoring wolf population levels for five years. If the numbers drop drastically, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could reclaim jurisdiction, said Joel Trick, a wolf specialist in the federal agency's Green Bay office. Until then, he said, it's up the state to run things.