Wolf count numbers released by the state Department of Natural Resources Tuesday (April 29) showed that there are a minimum of just under 700 wolves across the state.
That number shows a 19 percent decline from last year's wolf count but is still double the number that the state set as a goal in its wolf management plan.
Numbers of wolves continued to rise over recent years as wolves migrated to Wisconsin from Minnesota and reproduced. During that time the state was also prevented from instituting its wolf management plan because of several lawsuits brought by animal rights groups.
The Endangered Species Act was invoked to prevent Wisconsin from doing any of the wolf management practices it had laid out in its management plan until the issue was settled in court.
The Natural Resources board and the Wolf Advisory Committee last year considered scientific models that predicted this kind of decline in wolf population numbers in light of the two years of wolf hunt that have been instituted by the state.
The late winter wolf count is conducted with aerial and ground crews that observe wolves when there is snow on the ground. This makes counting easier but also coincides with the wolf population's lowest point in the year.
David MacFarlands, DNR's large carnivore specialist, noted that the population nearly doubles when wolf pups are born in the spring. That means a higher population in October where the hunting and trapping season kicks in.
This year's wolf count found there was a minimum of 658-687 wolves. In the 2013 count there was a minimum of 809-834 wolves.
That number was similar to the late winter population count prior to the state's inaugural 2012 wolf hunt.
Wolf counts have been conducted by DNR staff members and various cooperators in Wisconsin since winter 1979-80 when 25 wolves were counted in the state.
While the number of wolves is down from the 2013 count, the population is still nearly double the current state goal of 350 wolves, and is six times higher than the federal goal of 100 wolves for Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
That federal goal was laid out in the so-called "de-listing" of the wolf from the Endangered Species Act.
Michigan's Natural Resources Commission authorized its own limited wolf hunt last July, aimed at managing the state's wolf population — estimated at more than 1,000 wolves in the Upper Pennisula alone.
The DNR is currently reviewing and revising its wolf management plan based on the preliminary wolf count numbers. Wolf quota recommendations will be finalized in May.
Wildlife officials at DNR will consider those quota recommendations before developing final department recommendations for Natural Resources Board approval at its June meeting.
MacFarland said this year's population numbers are within the range predicted by University of Wisconsin population models. The increased hunt quotas resulted in a reduction in wolf population numbers.
"We are collecting important data on which to base future management decisions and will continue to learn with each season," he said, adding that the state has some of the most reliable methods for monitoring wolf populations.
"They include a combination of radio-telemetry (radio-collared wolves,) pilot observations and winter track counts conducted by staff and trained volunteers across the state's wolf range."
According to the DNR, the state's wolf management objectives are to "ensure a sustainable wolf population"; address conflicts involving wolves quickly and effectively; begin to reduce the wolf population toward the established population goal; and learn for future wolf management adaptation.