Perhaps no wildlife issue is more contentious than the re-introduction of Gray wolves (Canis lupus).
In fact, wolf haters abound and always have. The animals were almost exterminated from the United States by 1960. There were remnant populations in Minnesota and Isle Royale National Park in Michigan.
Beginning in the late 1960’s federal protection of wolves was initiated and since that time their numbers have gradually increased. In Wisconsin there were an estimated 80 wolves in the 1980’s, now the number is about 10 times as large.
Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has recently released a draft of a new wolf management plan that seeks to balance the conflicting views of wolf supporters and enemies. If adopted, Wisconsin’s plan would allow for limited hunting and trapping – currently forbidden under a federal ruling. It would also provide some protections and encourage study of the animals. Since federal law supersedes state law, hunting and trapping could only resume if the wolves once again lose federal protection.
“The proposed draft Wolf Management Plan reflects the detailed and significant work done by DNR staff to ensure the health and stability of Wisconsin’s wolf population. Input from diverse and varied stakeholders was critical to the development of this proposal,” said Preston Cole, DNR secretary, in a statement released with the draft plan. “I encourage the public to review and provide robust, meaningful feedback on the plan to the DNR. Because this is such an important issue for all of Wisconsin, we are providing an extended 60-day review period to offer all interested parties the opportunity to digest, reflect and provide feedback.”
The state believes there are about 1,000 wolves in Wisconsin. The number dropped in February 2021 after a 72-hour hunting season resulted in more than 200 wolves being killed.
Interestingly, public support for wolves is growing despite the continuing hatred. In Wisconsin, up to 75% of survey residents opposed eradication. Of course the survey was imperfect, About 7,000 randomly selected households received a questionnaire, about half responded. In Colorado and other states public support for wolves has been strong, but law suits and extermination efforts continue. Some even resort to poison.
The battle pits two strongly held beliefs. Supporters feel wolves are a necessary part of a healthy ecosystem. Opponents feel they destroy deer, some pets and livestock. Both sides have some truth on their side. The middle ground is often ignored.
The Center For Biological Diversity says the battle is far from over but wolves do appear to be increasing their range and numbers. Wolf populations exist in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. According to the center:
“Despite these substantial gains amid extreme challenges, the job of wolf recovery is far from over. Wolves need connected populations for genetic sustainability, and natural ecosystems need wolves to maintain a healthy balance of species. Yet today wolves occupy less than 10% of their historic range and continue to face persecution.”
Internationally, wolves seem to be receiving more protection. Italy is reporting an increase in numbers and hopes wolves can help with wild pig depradations. But Himalayan wolves are increasing in number and posing challenges.