According to researchers, up to a third of Wisconsin
's gray wolves
may have been killed earlier this year after the animals
were delisted under the Endangered Species Act
and the state permitted a public hunt.
In a new study, researchers at the University
of Wisconsin-Madison estimated that between April
2020 and April 2021, 313 to 323 wolves were likely killed by humans. Adrian Treves, a professor at UW-Madison and the study's lead author, said the figures should raise concerns about future hunting
seasons in the state.
“While the [Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources] aims for a stable population, we estimate the population actually dropped significantly,” Treves said in a statement.
The findings come just months after wildlife
officials in the state were forced to call off a legal wolf hunt after only three days. In about 60 hours, hunters killed at least 216 wolves, far exceeding a 119-wolf threshold set by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The figures shocked conservationists, who had sued to stop the hunt, claiming it would take place during the wolves' breeding season.
Wisconsin had planned to open its first hunting season in six years in November 2021, but a pro-hunting group sued and won a court order in February allowing the effort to proceed.
Many of the additional wolf deaths, according to the researchers, were caused by “cryptic poaching,” which occurs when hunters conceal evidence of the killings. They estimate that 695 to 751 wolves remain in the state, down from at least 1,034 last year.
Treves and his co-authors estimate that wolf populations could recover in one or two years if no further hunting is conducted. Wisconsin state law
requires wolf hunting to take place between November and February when there is no federal prohibition against it.
According to the Associated Press
, some scientists have warned that more evidence is needed to prove that wolf populations have declined so dramatically in such a short period of time.
The hunt came after the Trump administration
removed wolves from the Endangered Species Act after they were first protected in 1974, a decision that took effect in January. At the time, then-Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said the animals had “exceeded all conservation goals for recovery” after they were nearly wiped out from the lower 48 states
due to decades of hunting and extermination efforts.
Wolves were reintroduced into Idaho
and Yellowstone National Park
by the federal government in the 1990s, and populations exploded, making wolf management a contentious federal issue for decades.
Wolf conservation goals were essentially left up to states to manage after they were removed from the Endangered Species Act earlier this year, though they must submit five-year monitoring plans to the US Fish
and Wildlife Service. The agency estimates that there are about 6,000 wolves in the lower 48 states, mostly spread across Idaho, Michigan
, and Wisconsin.