Wisconsin's first wolf hunt in the modern era began Monday, Oct. 15, even as animal rights groups descended on Madison to protest the hunt and insist that the wolf population in the Great Lakes states belonged back on the endangered species list.
Officials with the state Department of Natural Resources reported Tuesday that four wolves had been killed in the first day of the hunt. Hunters bagged the elusive predators in Eau Claire, Rusk, Vilas and Iron counties during the first 24 hours of the hunt.
A small group of protesters gathered in Madison Monday to demonstrate their opposition to the hunt, which they said is extreme - too long at five months. The DNR's permitting process also allows trapping, which they oppose.
Farmers and residents of the state's northern counties have sparred with animal rights groups for years as the wolf population grew. Years ago state wildlife managers set a goal of 350 wolves as about the right population.
As lawsuits brought by animal rights groups delayed the state from taking over management of the wolf population, the number of wolves has swelled to over 850 - some have put that number even higher.
On the first day of Wisconsin's wolf hunting season, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and The Fund for Animals filed notice with the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that they will sue if the Great Lakes wolves aren't restored to federal protections offered by the Endangered Species Act in the next 60 days.
"It is painfully clear that federal protection must be reasserted. The states have allowed the most extreme voices to grab hold of wolf management," HSUS president Wayne Pacelle said in a statement Monday. "The result could be devastating for this species."
The Center for Biological Diversity and Howling for Wolves filed an emergency request with Minnesota's Supreme Court to block the wolf hunt in that state. They are basing the suit on allegations that Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources didn't follow state requirements on taking public comments.
Their request and claim were rejected last week by an appeals court.
Killing of livestock, hunting dogs and even pets has been reported by northern residents. According to DNR records, depredation of livestock reached its highest level last year.
The animal rights groups have asked Minnesota and Wisconsin to postpone their wolf hunting seasons until the merits of a lawsuit and a return of wolves to federal protection is decided.
Gov. Scott Walker called the beginning of the hunt a "landmark day in Wisconsin.
"Thanks to the conservation efforts of wildlife officials and the Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin's wolf population grew from just a few animals migrating back from Minnesota and Michigan, to healthy and thriving."
Walker noted that the state has now reached the point "where this public harvest is necessary to maintain a safe balance." The wolf hunt will "ease the burden on state residents, farmers and visitors who have been faced with the loss of livestock and pets."
Walker said he thanked all the hunters and trappers who are participating in this "challenging, historic event."
Through a lottery system, 1,160 people were granted the option to buy a wolf permit out of approximately 20,000 applicants. As of Monday morning, 599 state permits and six out-of state permits had been purchased according to state officials.
Up to 201 wolves can be harvested in this inaugural season, 85 of which are reserved for Native American tribes within the ceded territory of northern Wisconsin. This leaves a quota of 116 for harvest by state licensed hunters and trappers.
Wisconsin's wolf hunt is set to run until Feb. 28, 2013, but will end earlier in zones if hunters there reach their quotas.