The Wisconsin wolf population is at a record high, more than double the state's carrying capacity goal. Some says that's way too many.
The Wisconsin wolf is doing quite well. The state currently has a record number of the animals, with between 866 and 897 wolves being the 2015-'16 estimate. These wolves make up 222 packs counted during the winter of 2015 by Department of Natural Resources employees and volunteers, during their annual winter wolf monitoring program.
This is a 16 percent increase in the previous year's population, and a 30 percent increase from two years ago. It's also the most wolves the state has ever counted, though probably not the most the state has ever had in its history.
Douglas, Bayfield and Ashland counties in northern Wisconsin contain most of the animals, says DNR large carnivore specialist David MacFarland, although wolves are also expanding their range into new areas as well. "We're seeing both more packs (in traditional wolf areas) and more wolves moving into new areas," said MacFarland.
In 2014, a federal judge decreed a ban on hunting and trapping wolves, which has obviously had an effect on the population. That federal court order has been challenged, however, by upper Midwest states, which say that each state ought to be allowed to determine its own population limits and manage wolves accordingly.
The last hunting and trapping season in Wisconsin was the 2014 season, during which a quota system was in place limiting the number of wolves that could be taken according to county.
Wisconsin's official goal for wolves in the state is 350 animals. Clearly the animals have ignored that limit and are reproducing at an excellent rate.
Typically, however, the population experiences an increase in spring as pups are born and then a smaller decrease in winter as natural mortality occurs. So long as the ban is in place, however, it looks as the the Wisconsin wolf population will continue to increase.
There have been reports of wolves increasingly attacking livestock, pets and hunting dogs since the federal ban was put in place. Deer hunters in Northern Wisconsin also blame the lower deer population on wolves.
Recently a sheep farmer lost 17 sheep - valued at $1,200 each - in an apparent surplus killing incident in Price County.
"We don't have any problem with wolves in the national forest," said the sheep rancher Judy Canik. "They don't belong on our farm."
A 2015 survey by the Minnesota DNR indicated an estimated 2,221 wolves in 374 packs across the northern half of the state. In the mid-1970s, wolves began repopulating Wisconsin, after being extirpated in the state, by coming over from Minnesota.
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