Wisconsin Assembly approves a bill mandating a limit on the wolf population, sends proposal to Evers

Posted at 12:44 PM, Jan 25, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-25 13:44:17-05

MADISON (AP) — Wisconsin Republicans sent a bill to Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday that would mandate state wildlife managers set a cap on the state's wolf population, forcing the governor to choose between pleasing conservationists who want to protect the creatures and farmers who say wolves are destroying their livestock.

The Assembly passed the bill on a voice vote with no debate. The Senate approved it in October. Evers will have to decide whether to sign it into law or veto it. His spokesperson, Britt Cudaback, didn't immediately respond to a message asking where Evers stands on the proposal.

The state Department of Natural Resources, an Evers cabinet agency, adopted a wolf management plan in October that didn't include a hard cap. The plan instead recommended keeping the population at around 1,000 animals.

The plan replaced a management plan the DNR adopted in 1999 that set a hard cap of 350 wolves. DNR officials have argued the new approach gives wildlife managers more flexibility.

The new plan pleased at least some environmentalists who argue that wolves haven't firmly reestablished themselves in Wisconsin. Decades of hunting rendered wolves all but extinct in the state by the 1950s. Today the population stands at around 1,200 wolves, according to DNR estimates.

Residents and farmers across northern Wisconsin maintain that wolves have become so abundant that they're attacking their livestock and menacing children and pets. They have demanded a hard population cap in the new management plan.

Wolves are currently listed on the federal endangered species list and cannot be hunted. But if federal officials ever delist them the DNR would be forced under state law to hold a wolf hunt. The population cap would then come into play as DNR officials consider how many wolves hunters could kill. The lower the cap, the more wolves hunters could harvest.

Republican legislators have sided with their constituents in the north, calling repeatedly on the DNR to adopt a hard cap to no avail. Republicans who control the state Senate refused to confirm four Evers appointees to the agency's board in October after they hedged on whether they support a hard cap.

Not all conservationists support the new management plan. The Great Lakes Wildlife Alliance, also known as Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf & Wildlife, filed a lawsuit in November accusing DNR board members of violating the state's open meetings law during the run-up to adoption, not considering the dangers of overhunting wolves and allowing unverified accounts of wolf aggression to influence the plan.

The lawsuit is still pending in Dane County Circuit Court.