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Wolves in Wisconsin: A Conservation
Success Story with an Uncertain Future

The Federal Endangered Species Act was enacted in 1973 in order to protect wildlife and plants throughout the country in danger of extinction. In Wisconsin, the gray wolf benefited from the act since it kept these animals from becoming extinct.

In the 1980s, the Wisconsin gray wolf population was estimated to be below 80 individuals. In 1999, the plan was for the wolf population to be higher than 250 outside Indian reservations in order for the species to be delisted from the endangered list. Management goals were to overall maintain a population greater than 350 outside reservations. As of April 2020, the wolf population was estimated by the DNR at more than 1,100 individuals living in multiple packs throughout the state. Recent estimates suggest it is now growing by 15-16% a year. This success primarily comes from this act and has removed gray wolves from the endangered list in 2004.

The increase in the wolf population is not without controversy however. Some communities view the rise in population as a threat to personal safety and would prefer less wolves on their lands. On the other hand, conservationists believe that the increase has benefited the natural landscape by keeping the deer population under control. The Wisconsin legislature has recently enacted laws in an attempt to balance these competing interests. In particular, a 2012 state law allows for a wolf hunting season as long as the species is not endangered and considered in need of protection. This season lasts between October and February each year and ends when harvest limits are reached. Additionally the law requires that the Department of Natural Resources pay individuals in cases of death or injury to livestock and other property caused by wolves.

Throughout the past few decades, the Wisconsin gray wolf population has fluctuated at some points even landing on the endangered species list. However, through the years legislators have passed many laws and restrictions to ensure the continued protection of these canine animals. The Wisconsin wolves have persevered through many trying situations, and after years of near extinction they now thrive in Wisconsin.

[Sources: The Capital Times; wisfarmer.com]

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