But Spain, with twice as many wolves in about the same amount of habitat, puts wolves off limits to hunters
MADISON, Wisconsin; MADRID, Spain––Wisconsin hunters and trappers killed 216 wolves in under 72 hours during the last week of February 2021, 97 more than the “management target” of 119, obliging the state Department of Natural Resources to close the “wolf season” on February 24, 2021 in all six “management zones.”
“The number is likely to climb over the next 24 hours,” said Paul A. Smith of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, as more hunters come out of the woods to report their kills.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources wants to cut wolf population by 70%
Estimating that Wisconsin had about 1,195 resident wolves in 256 packs before the three-day “wolf season,” which was expected to last a week, the state Department of Natural Resources has set a “management goal” of reducing the wolf population just 350.
This is to be done mostly during a planned November 2021 “wolf season.”
“This month’s season is the first held during the wolf breeding season,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Smith continued. “Wolf advocates are concerned the season will disrupt wolf packs and kill pregnant females. It is unknown what effect it will have on the Department of Natural Resources’s annual wolf tracking and population survey, also held at this time.”
Added Smith, “Although wolf hunting has relatively little tradition in Wisconsin, interest was high: the Department of Natural Resources sold 27,151 wolf harvest applications,” allowing the purchasers to participate in a lottery that awarded 2,380 actual wolf hunting permits.
More livestock may be road-killed than are killed by wolves
Wolves are widely blamed in Wisconsin, as everywhere that has wolves, for allegedly killing livestock and depressing the numbers of deer accessible to human hunters. But wolves in truth account for fewer than three dozen livestock deaths per year in Wisconsin.
This is likely fewer livestock animals per year than are shot by hunters by accident or killed by cars after wandering into roadways, but no single agency tracks and compares the data.
As of the opening of the 2021 Wisconsin “wolf season,” news reports indicate, five cattle had been killed by wolves in the first two months of the year, according to farmers’ reports, compared to four cattle killed by cars, even though most of the 3.4 million cattle in Wisconsin are in barns during the months of January and February.
Wolves are not hurting the Wisconsin deer population, either
Wisconsin wolves prey primarily on the third largest deer population of any U.S. state, averaging more than 1.3 million survivors after each deer hunting season in recent years.
Texas hunters annually kill upward of 700,000 deer, by far the highest total of any state.
Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Georgia rival Wisconsin for the second most deer killed by hunters, each totaling between 316,000 and 333,000 deer shot per year.
“Wisconsin law hands hunters & trappers significant advantages”
“Wisconsin law hands wolf hunters and trappers significant advantages during the season,” observed Associated Press writer Todd Richmond. “Unlike with deer hunting, wolf hunters and trappers can operate at night and use dogs to corner wolves. Snow cover also aids tracking.”
In addition, Richmond noted, “Wisconsin law requires the Department of Natural Resources to give 24-hour notice of wolf hunting zone closures, which means hunters and trappers can keep killing wolves for another day after a closure is announced.”
At sunset on February 24, 2021, at least three wolves were known to have been killed after the season officially ended.
Hunters and trappers also “exceeded the state’s kill target during Wisconsin’s 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons,” Richmond recalled, “which were held before the wolf was placed back on the federal endangered species list.
Trump administration removed wolf protection
“The Trump administration removed federal protections for wolves in January,” Richmond summarized, “returning management to the states. Wisconsin law requires the Department of Natural Resources to hold an annual wolf hunt between November and February.
“The department was preparing for a November hunt,” Richmond explained, “when Republican lawmakers demanded the season start before the end of February, saying they were worried the Biden administration might re-list wolves before November and deny Wisconsin hunters a season.
“The Department of Natural Resources resisted,” Richmond continued, “but hunter advocacy group Hunter Nation won a court order that forced the immediate launch of a wolf hunting season.”
Wolf hunting banned in Spain
The issues involving wolves in Spain are much the same as those in Wisconsin, but had a different outcome in early February 2021, when environment minister Teresa Ribera banned wolf hunting entirely.
Summarized James Badcock for MSN, “Conservationists described the decision as ‘historic’ in a country where wolves almost went extinct thanks to a deliberate eradication campaign between the 1950s and 1970s.”
Observed Vincent West for the Reuters news service, “Since the 1960s Spain’s Iberian wolf population has rebounded from a few hundred to an estimated 1,500-2,000,” or even 2,500 according to wolf hunting proponents, “with more than 90% of the population concentrated in the north.”
Wolves had been hunted in Pyrenees sheep country
Resumed Badcock, “Until now hunting of wolves has been allowed north of the Duero river,” a region about the same size as Wisconsin, extending into the Pyrenees mountain range, which forms the national border with France.
“Castilla y León, the region with the highest proportion of Spain’s wolves,” Badcock continued, “issued licenses for the shooting of 339 wolves over three years between 2019 and 2022, drawing criticism from conservationists who said the figure was far too high.”
Spain, overall, consists of 195,360 square miles, occupied by 47.5 million people. The 54,310 square miles of Wisconsin are occupied by 5.8 million people––but most of the population of both Spain and Wisconsin are in densely occupied metropolitan regions, while their wolves are in relatively sparsely occupied countryside.
Organizations representing Spanish farmers maintain that wolves kill as many as 15,000 livestock animals per year, including 4,000 in Castilla y León alone, most of them sheep.
Sheep industry in decline
Spain produces more than 15 million sheep per year, but as elsewhere, the sheep industry has long been in slow decline, due to declining demand for wool and mutton.
The decline has in recent years been especially pronounced in the same provinces which have the most wolves.
While sheep production throughout Spain has fallen 2.3%, the decline in Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and Castilla y León in 2017-2018 ranged from 6.6% to 14.6%, making wolves convenient targets of blame for dropping farm income.
The governments of Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and Castilla y León all pledged to fight to reinstate wolf hunting.