The Wisconsin Senate was scheduled to pass a Republican-authored bill Tuesday that would force state wildlife managers to set a firm numeric goal for the state’s wolf population.
The bill, which would next head to the Assembly, comes after the Department of Natural Resources did not set a hard cap on the state’s wolf population in its new management plan, but said the population should be around 1,000.
The state has operated since 1999 under a wolf management plan that limits the statewide population at 350 animals. The new plan calls for the DNR to work with advisory committees to monitor local populations and decide whether to reduce them, maintain them or allow them to grow.
State wildlife officials told lawmakers last month that a lack of a hard limit gives the DNR more flexibility to manage the species, allows local wolf packs to fluctuate and gives the population a better chance at maintaining wolf abundance for years to come.
Hunting advocates support setting a population limit, saying the lack of a goal leaves both wolves and people unprotected.
Wolf population levels have been one of the most contentious outdoor issues Wisconsin has faced in the last 30 years. Farmers across northern Wisconsin complain annually about wolf attacks on their livestock as the species has regained a foothold in the state. Hunters are eager to kill them. Animal rights advocates insist the population is too fragile to support hunting.
Wisconsin law mandates that the DNR hold an annual wolf hunt. Gray wolves are currently listed on the federal endangered species list, making hunting illegal. The DNR has been working to update its management plan in case wolves are delisted and hunting resumes in the state.