Wisconsin has an estimated 800 wolves outside of American Indian reservations.
The Natural Resources Board on Wednesday approved a scope statement of rules for a public wolf harvest scheduled to begin in October.
The procedural step was accompanied by a renewed round of support and criticism for legislation that prescribes the first regulated Wisconsin wolf season.
"It's time to let the public begin managing wolves," said Ralph Fritsch of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation. "I'm confident we will come up with a season that allows management and keeps the wolf numbers above the recovery goal."
The Wisconsin Conservation Congress and Wisconsin Hunters Rights Coalition also supported the wolf hunting rules.
But others appealed to the board to oppose what they view as an overly aggressive, poorly considered plan drafted by extremists.
"The cautionary principle of 'haste makes waste,' applies here," said Jodi Habush Sinykin, senior counsel at Midwest Environmental Advocates. "The rushed rule-making process comes off as financially and ethically irresponsible and could very well cause the species to be re-listed again."
Sinykin said lawmakers had failed to work with wolf experts, including current and former DNR employees and researchers at the University of Wisconsin, when the legislation was passed.
Opposition has also come from American Indian officials and the Wisconsin Humane Society.
The state assumed management responsibility for wolves in January when the species was removed from protections of the federal Endangered Species Act.
Wisconsin has an estimated 800 wolves outside of American Indian reservations; the recovery goal was 350.
Legislation signed last month charged the Department of Natural Resources with implementing a wolf hunting and trapping season.
Lawmakers established many aspects of the season, including a season to run from Oct. 15 to the end of February.
They also legalized the use of dogs, electronic calls, bait and night hunting to pursue wolves.
Hunters and trappers will pay a $10 application fee. Licenses will cost $100 for residents and $500 for non-residents.
The DNR is working on establishing harvest zones as well as permit levels and wolf harvest quotas.
"Our goal is to make sure what we are putting forward is publicly acceptable and the wolf population remains viable," said Kurt Thiede, administrator of the DNR's Land Division.
Thiede declined to give a potential range for permit levels; he said numbers should be released in early June.
Minnesota officials last week announced a wolf harvest quota of 400 wolves out of its population of more than 3,000.
If Wisconsin were to use a similar goal, it would set a wolf harvest quota of about 100.
The scoping statement approved Wednesday allows the department to close hunting and trapping in a zone if the quota is reached or if it is "necessary to effectively manage the state's wolf population."
Half of the permits must be issued randomly, half through a preference point system.
In addition, depredation claims will now be paid from revenue from wolf hunting and trapping licenses, not from the Endangered Resources fund.
The state paid about $300,000 in livestock and pet depredation claims due to wolf attacks in 2011, Thiede said.
Final wolf hunting and trapping rules should be back to the board for consideration in July.
If the final rules are approved by the board and the governor, wolf hunting and trapping permit applications would be available in early August. The application deadline would be Sept. 1.
Successful applicants would be notified by mid-September, Thiede said.
The agency is entering uncharted territory. Wolves had been hunted, trapped and poisoned under a bounty system in Wisconsin for much of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Now, as a protected game species, the wolf is subject to season and harvest restrictions.
"We'll learn a lot this year about hunter success rates and the level of interest," Thiede said. "Our primary objective is to retain state management of the species."
Coyote hunting expansion?
The law that establishes a Wisconsin wolf hunting and trapping season also includes a provision to expand coyote hunting.
Ralph Fritsch of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation encouraged the DNR to seize the opportunity and approve a rule to allow coyote hunting in northern Wisconsin during the nine-day gun deer season.
Such hunting had been prohibited to guard against hunters mistakenly shooting wolves.
Now that the wolf population has surpassed recovery goals, Thiede said the department was evaluating a rule to allow coyote hunting in northern Wisconsin during the gun deer season. Such a rule could be in place by November.
At the DNR's request, the board approved a new policy that will allow the public to leave trail cameras overnight on state properties.
The agency has a general prohibition against leaving personal property overnight on state land. Trail cameras join geocaches and traps as exceptions to the policy.
The DNR accepts no responsibility for theft or damage to trail cameras left on state property.
The new trail cam policy will become official in June when it is published, said the DNR's Scott Loomens.
Record land deal approved:
The board approved an $11.3 million purchase of conservation easements on nearly 45,000 acres in northern Wisconsin.
The easements will allow public access to the land in perpetuity. The money will come from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program.
The land is owned by Lyme Timber Co. of Hanover, N.H.
Called the Brule-St.Croix Forest Legacy Project, the land lies in the headwaters of the Bois Brule and St. Croix rivers in Douglas, Washburn, Bayfield and Burnett counties.
The deal was supported by a wide array of organizations, including the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy and the Wisconsin Conservation Congress.
The conservation acquisition includes 80 small lakes and ponds and 14 miles of streams. It abuts 950,000 acres of existing public land, including the Brule River State Forest, and includes a segment of the North Country National Scenic Trail.
The land provides access to 47 miles of snowmobile trails and walk-in access to 12 lakes. It also offers habitat for three endangered or threatened species — the Karner Blue butterfly, Kirtland's warbler and Canada lynx — according to the DNR.
The board's vote covers the first phase of the project. The second will cover 22,668 acres for $6 million; it is expected to be reviewed by the board in 2014.
When both phases are complete, the deal will cover 67,347 acres and be the largest such purchase in state history.