Wisconsin's Gray Wolves Continue to Park Controversy
by Stephanie Sykes, age 17
The gray wolf recently returned to the federal endangered species list for the third time in the last two years. This change marks a continued battle between those who want the wolf to remain protected, and those who believe it should be permanently removed from the list.
The current debate over the status of the Great Lakes gray wolf recently began in 2004. That year wolf populations in the region exceeded expected numbers, and the animal was removed from Wisconsin’s endangered species list.
The controversy over the gray wolf really began in the 1950s. At this time, the gray wolf had all but vanished from Wisconsin due to excessive hunting and trapping. Federal and state protection, as well as a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recovery program, helped spark a resurgence of Wisconsin’s gray wolf population.
In 1987, wildlife officials estimated there were only 18 wolves left in Wisconsin. But, continued protection helped the number of wolves in our state grow quickly. By 1999, the population had far surpassed the DNR’s original goal of 100 wolves, a goal set 10 years earlier.
In 2004, the population of wolves in Wisconsin reached an estimated 373. State DNR officials removed the wolf from Wisconsin’s endangered species list. But the wolves of the Great Lakes region remained on the federal list. Pressure mounted to bring federal and state laws in line by removing the gray wolf from the federal endangered list.
Because the gray wolf still remained on the federal endangered species list during this time, the state had little power to control problem animals even after its decision to remove the wolf from Wisconsin’s endangered list.
When farmers and other affected landowners were not able to control these problem wolves, public sentiment against the gray wolf increased.
Pressure to remove the gray wolf from the federal endangered species list mounted again in 2007, when the Wisconsin wolf population exploded to about 546 animals. The federal government finally removed the gray wolf from the national list.
Once the gray wolf was removed, DNR officials could legally kill problem wolves and issue permits giving landowners permission to kill these wolves. While the gray wolf was not on the endangered species list, 38 of these permits were issued, and 45 wolves were killed.
As soon as the wolf was taken off the list, animal advocates fought back. In September 2008, the Humane Society of the United States filed a lawsuit that succeeded in returning the wolf to the federal endangered species list.
The organization claimed that wolf populations had not sufficiently recovered in the Great Lakes area. They feared that removing the gray wolf from the list would ultimately lead to hunting and trapping laws that could again decimate wolf numbers.
Six months later, Wisconsin’s wolf population was estimated at more than 650 individuals, living in family units (packs) as far south as Mauston and Tomah. The federal government removed the animal from the list again, this time in May of this year.
Then came the most recent re-listing, in June of this year, after a court appeal. A federal judge ruled that because the Fish and Wildlife Service did not designate an additional 60-day public comment period before its latest delisting, the gray wolf should be returned to the endangered list. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service plans to remove the wolf from the list again this fall, this time including in the process an official public comment period.
It is likely those who are passionate about the gray wolf issue will continue to disagree. Until an agreement can be reached, however, this conflict will likely continue.
[Sources: Beaver Dam Daily Citizen, Wisconsin State Journal; Associated Press]