The Natural Resources Board last week approved a lower quota for this year's wolf hunt, falling in line with a proposal from an advisory committee that suggested state hunters and trappers be allowed to take 156 wolves.
The upcoming season's quota of 156 is a decrease from 2013's quota of 275 wolves, which was not met by state sportsmen. State hunters and trappers harvested 257 wolves in 2013.
The Wolf Advisory Committee includes state wildlife officials, members of the Chippewa tribes and stakeholders from agriculture, Wisconsin Conservation Congress, hunting groups and other groups with an interest in natural resource and wolf management issues.
DNR officials said the quota was set "with the intention of continuing to reduce the state's wolf population in accordance with the goals identified in the wolf management plan."
The state's wolf management plan has a suggested wolf population of 350 animals in the state. The latest wolf count — done during the winter months in early 2014 — showed a probable population of around 700 wolves across the state.
A year earlier, the winter count found the state had somewhere in the range of 809-834 wolves.
Wildlife experts noted that the population doubles during the summer as wolves give birth to their pups.
Still, the latest wolf count showed a 19 percent decline from last year's wolf population and was used in coming to conclusions for this year's wolf management quotas
This year's hunting season for wolves will be the third since the state was allowed to pursue its wolf management plan. Up until then, Wisconsin was prevented from doing any wolf management — like a hunting season — because of several lawsuits brought by animal rights groups.
During the time the DNR's approved wolf management plan was in limbo, wolf numbers continued to rise as wolves migrated from Minnesota and reproduced.
When the Endangered Species Act protections were deemed not applicable to the Great Lakes wolf population — in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan — it opened the door for a wolf season here.
The Natural Resources Board and the Wolf Advisory Committee use scientific models to predict how the population will react to hunting quotas. The decline in wolf population seen in the most recent count was predicted by the models after two wolf hunting seasons were completed.
The late winter wolf count is conducted with aerial and ground crews that observe wolves when there is snow on the ground because it makes counting easier. It also coincides with the wolf population's lowest point in the year.
Analysis of the state's wolf population with various modeling tools suggests that the new quota, if reached, will result in a reduction in the 2014 late winter wolf population, but at a lower rate than was seen last year.
The wolf quota will be distributed across Wisconsin's six hunting and trapping zones.
According to DNR officials, the wolf quota established for each zone concentrates hunting pressure more in areas that have higher potential for agricultural conflicts — where farmers are losing livestock to wolf predation — and less where that potential for conflict is lower.
The season is set to begin Oct. 15 and will run in each zone until the zone is closed by the DNR or the last day of February, whichever occurs first. The department has the authority to close hunting zones when quotas are met or if deemed biologically necessary.
Though the quota has been decided, the number of wolves harvestable by state trappers and hunters may be adjusted based on tribal harvest declarations, officials said.
The department will maintain the 10-to-1 license-to-quota ratio from the 2013 season. One half of available permits will be issued randomly among all permit applications, and the second half will be issued through a cumulative preference point drawing.
Wolf license applicants who are not successful in the drawing will be awarded a preference point toward future license drawings.