The state of Wisconsin on Wednesday authorized the killing of 300 wolves as part of a hunt this fall, far exceeding the recommendations of its own biologists for the once-protected species and drawing criticism from conservationists.
In a 5-to-2 vote, the state’s Natural Resources Board cast aside the quota that had been proposed by the state’s natural resources agency, which had called for a limit of 130 wolves to be killed.
The decision followed several hours of intense public debate by dozens of people over the scope of the hunting program, with animal rights activists calling it inhumane and hunting groups seeking even higher quotas.
The debate represented the latest flashpoint over the status of the gray wolf, which lost its Endangered Species Act protections under the Trump administration.
It also came amid a political standoff over the composition of the state’s conservative-leaning Natural Resources Board. Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, has complained that the Republican-controlled Legislature has held up two of his nominees, who would shift the balance of power.
Those who supported the higher quota dismissed criticism that the fall hunt, the second one to take place this year, would threaten the wolf population in the state.
“I’m not really concerned about, you know, being afraid if we set that number too high we’re going to run more of a risk of them being relisted,” William Bruins, a board member, said of the prospect of wolves’ regaining their protected status.
Mr. Bruins was appointed by former Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican.
Earlier this year, at least 216 wolves were killed in less than 60 hours, exceeding the state quota of 119 for that hunt and prompting Wisconsin to end the hunt, which had been meant to last a week, four days early, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
That hunt was prompted by a court order that had been issued by a county Circuit Court judge in Wisconsin after a hunting group had filed a lawsuit.
During the board’s meeting on Wednesday, officials with the Department of Natural Resources urged the panel to exercise restraint in setting quotas for the fall hunt, which begins on Nov. 6. They said they did not have enough data on the size of the wolf population after the hunt earlier this year.
“We have a small population, and regardless of whether you want more wolves or fewer wolves, from a biological management standpoint, this population is small, and that requires careful biological scientific population management,” said Keith Warnke, the administrator of the department’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks Division. “This calls for a conservative quota until we have more population data, more science, to back up our decision making.”
Animal rights activists said that holding two hunts in the same calendar year was uncharted territory and too intense.
“What is being called wolf management in this state is a revenge-driven assault perpetrated by legal dog fighters, trophy killers, disingenuous special interests and their anti-wolf allies in the state Legislature,” said Paul Collins, the state director of the group Animal Wellness Action.
Hunters contended that the state’s wolf population had swelled while gray wolves were listed as an endangered species, threatening farming and livestock.
“Hunters have been responsible managers of this population,” said Luke Hilgemann, the president and chief executive of Hunter Nation, the group that previously sued over wolf hunting. “We think it will restore balance.”
Marcy West, who was appointed to the Natural Resources Board by Mr. Evers, panned the higher quota.
“But the majority asked for zero,” she said of the public input on the quota.
In a statement, Mr. Evers criticized Republicans in the Legislature for the delays in approving his nominees to the board.
“It’s ridiculous, frankly, that Republicans have turned this into a game of political chicken,” he said. “Protecting our natural resources isn’t a partisan issue — ensuring an orderly transition of power and confirming knowledgeable and dedicated people who’ve volunteered to serve our state shouldn’t be a partisan issue, either.”
Republican legislative leaders did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday night.
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