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Wolf Hunting/Trapping Season in WI and its Impact to Grouse/Woodcock Hunters - An Update

11/15/12

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Intro: With the delisting of the wolf in Wisconsin in January 2012, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources obtained the authority to manage the wolf population in Wisconsin. The state legislature passed Wisconsin Act 169 that was signed into law in April 2012. This legislation mandated a two- year experimental wolf hunting/trapping season. The parameters for this season were put in place very quickly due to strong pressure predominately from Wisconsin deer hunters. The 2012 season opened October 15 under a quota system. A lawsuit is pending regarding the use of dogs to chase wolves and that method is not allowed at this time.

Season Dates: Act 169 requires the season to run from October 15th to the last day in February, but allows the DNR to close the season earlier when necessary to properly manage the wolf population (ie. when the quota for that zone is reached). Wisconsin has been divided into six wolf management zones and quotas were established based on the estimated populations in those zones.
Hunting/trapping methods allowed:  Hunting with the use of firearms, crossbows, or bow and arrow, and trapping are the only legal ways to harvest a wolf. Trappers can only legally use foot hold traps with a maximum jaw spread of 7 inches from October 15 – November 30. After December 1, traps with a maximum jaw spread of 8 inches can be used as well as cable restraints. Hunters are allowed to use electronic calls, bait with some restrictions, and hunt at night after November 26.
Potential Conflicts with Grouse Hunters:  Obviously the October 15 date, when the wolf season opens, is the prime time for ruffed grouse hunting in Wisconsin. Trapping appears to be the main concern with grouse hunters and the potential of dogs being caught in traps of highest concern. Much testing has occurred across the country to determine the effects of traps on non-target animals. The foot hold traps currently legal to use to trap wolves in Wisconsin have been shown to have little impact to hunting dogs and have been legal to use during the same time period for several decades in Wisconsin to capture other predators (ie. fox, coyote, bobcat).
RGS Involvement: From early in the process, RGS staff has worked closely with Department of Natural Resources staff as the experimental wolf season developed. We brought forth the trapping concerns, October harvest period and worked with the DNR staff to assess the potential impacts. In response, the Department developed an assessment paper on potential conflicts between wolf trapping and grouse/woodcock hunters. RGS staff have responded promptly to member’s concerns and distributed information on the wolf season on the RGS website and through Regional FAN Updates and newsletters. RGS biologist Gary Zimmer, rgszimm@gmail.com, is compiling data on conflicts between the user groups involved and will be providing that to the DNR as permanent wolf harvest rules are developed. To date, two encounters of grouse hunting dogs caught in traps have been reported with both dogs being removed promptly and with no permanent injuries. One encounter was a result of traps being set intentionally for wolves; in the other the target species could not determined.
Harvest Update: As of November 1, hunters and trappers had harvested 44 wolves or 38% of the established quota in Wisconsin. If this rate continues some of the 6 wolf management zones will be closed to wolf harvest prior to the end of the current season.