Up until January of this year, Great Lakes wolves were protected under the Endangered Species Act. But just ten months after being delisted, hunters are being given a chance to bait, trap, and shoot them for sport.
In a dramatic turnaround for human-wolf relations, wildlife officials from Wisconsin there recently began issuing hunting permits allowing gamesmen to kill the formerly 'endangered' animals. Beginning today, and lasting through February, 1,160 hunters will now have a chance to kill 201 out of the estimated 800 wolves that live in the state.
And likewise, similar legislation in Minnesota, home to an estimated 3,000, wolves, is set to allow for the killing of 400 of the animals later this year.
Some in the region say that wolf attacks on pets and livestock have become a growing problem in recent years, but in light of such a relatively small population of wolves, it's difficult to imagine such a cull is truly necessary from a wildlife management perspective. And, given the excitement this new allowance is generating among hunters, not to mention revenue for the state in permit sales, other motives for the legislation seem readily apparent.
"This is the ultimate challenge," Joe Caputo, a hunter from Wisconsin, tells the AP. "You're talking the largest-scale predator on the landscape."
While hunters say they are eager to track down and shoot the iconic species, in all likelihood as 'trophy' kills, conservationists in the region are concerned that the move comes at a time when the stability of wolf populations isn't yet understood.
"One of our biggest issues is the fact that this hunt is not based on sound science or peer reviewed research," said Nancy Warren, spokesperson for the National Wolfwatcher Coalition, in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio. "It's being spearheaded by a group of very vocal but minority hunters — it was based on misinformation, but many of these aspects really don't lend themselves to a lawsuit."
If there's any comfort to be had in light of this rather unseemly hunt, it's that wolves are actually quite good at avoiding getting shot. "Everybody's gung-ho to go kill a wolf but nobody realizes how hard it's going to be," says Bud Martin, a hunting guide, to the Green Bay Gazette. "I'll bet you a steak dinner your quota won't be met."
From peak population of roughly 5,000 in the 19th century, wolves in the Great Lakes region were nearly hunted to extinction by the 1950s. After being classified as an endangered species in 1973, and as 'threatened' in 2003, wolves had managed to recover their numbers -- prompting their delisting earlier this year.
What a way to welcome in a species so newly in the pink.