MADISON — Hunters used dogs to corral far fewer Wisconsin wolves than last year, mostly because they had less than a week to deploy them before the season closed, state wildlife officials said Wednesday.
Hunters killed 154 wolves before the hunt ended Friday, exceeding the statewide limit for nontribal hunters by four wolves. Department of Natural Resources carnivore specialist Dave MacFarland told the agency's board during a recap of the season that hunters used dogs to surround six wolves.
Hunters used dogs to chase down 35 wolves over nearly three weeks last year. But they had only a few days to run them this year, MacFarland said.
The wolf season begins on Oct. 15 and runs until hunters reach the statewide quota or the end of February. State law bars hunters from using dogs until the first day following the end of the traditional nine-day gun season.
This year that day fell on Dec. 1, when hunters were just four wolves short of the 150-animal quota. The DNR ended the season five days later. Last season hunters used dogs from Dec. 2 until the season ended on Dec. 23.
Wisconsin is the only state that allows hunters to use dogs to chase down wolves. State law prohibits hunters from letting their hounds actually make the kill, but animal rights advocates insist letting dogs go after wolves leads to bloody confrontations because wolves will turn and fight.
The DNR examined 27 wolves hunters killed with the aid of dogs last year and didn't find any evidence of fights. The carcasses were skinned before the examinations, however. MacFarland told the board eight hunters allowed federal wildlife specialists to observe as they skinned their kills this year. None of the carcasses showed any bite injuries, although none were taken with the aid of dogs, he said.
Of the 148 other wolves, 123 were trapped and shot, three were killed with a bow and 22 were shot with a gun, MacFarland said.
Jodi Habush Sinykin, an attorney for Midwest Environmental Advocates, which supports relisting wolves as endangered if the state can't ensure a sustainable population, said she takes little comfort in hounds tracking down only six wolves this year when so many more were trapped. "Where is the sportsman's ethic of fair pursuit?" she said in an email.
Board member Jane Burns asked MacFarland how many days hound hunters had this year and whether Wisconsin remains the only state that allows using dogs on wolves, but no other member offered any comment on dogs.
Board member Greg Kazmierski asked MacFarland how the agency could ensure the season lasts longer and whether the DNR's quotas are too conservative. MacFarland said the DNR is considering assigning hunters to management zones next year rather than letting them roam the state and flood more productive zones. He also said the agency may limit permits per zone.
MacFarland also told the board the agency plans to release draft revisions to its wolf management plan next month. That plan calls for a wolf population of 350 animals. The new plan presents four options — holding the population at its current level of around 650 wolves; maintaining the 350-wolf goal; holding the population between 300 and 650 animals; or setting a minimum of 350 wolves.
The population goal will be a key factor in setting the quota for next year's season. The DNR plans to solicit public input on the options and present a final plan to the board in March.