Up to a third of Wisconsin’s gray wolves may have been killed following their removal from the endangered species list. A University of Wisconsin-Madison study estimates that 313 to 323 wolves were likely killed by humans between April 2020 and April 2021.
In Wisconsin, locals can hunt the gray wolves between November and February when there is no federal prohibition. Early this year, wildlife officials in the state were forced to end legal hunting in just three days after hunters killed 216 wolves in 60 hours. The figure shocked conservationists, as it passed the set limit of 119 wolves for the whole season.
Professor Adrian Treves of UW-Madison said that these figures should be a big concern, especially during future hunting seasons. “Although the [Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources] is aiming for a stable population, we estimate the population actually dropped significantly,” Treves said in a statement.
Since 1974, the Endangered Species Act has protected Wisconsin’s gray wolves from public hunts. The recent hunt only came after the Trump administration delisted the wolves, a decision that went into effect in January of this year.
While delisting the animals, then-Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said the animals had “exceeded all conservation goals for recovery.” Despite admitting that wolves were nearly wiped out from the lower 48 states due to hunting, Bernhardt said that the wolves had reached numbers that could withstand hunting. Recent events demonstrate that these animals are still highly endangered and in need of protection.
According to the study, about 695 to 751 wolves remain in the state, down from 1,034 last year. Researchers suspect that the rest of the wolf deaths are due to “cryptic poaching,” a situation where poachers hide evidence of their killings.
While the researchers say that wolf populations could recover, this would likely require putting a stop to hunting in future seasons.
Lead image © Hilary Cooley