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DNR officials release winter wolf count, start process on next year's hunt


MADISON, Wis. (WSAU) -- Two seasons of wolf hunting have resulted in Wisconsin's first major decline in the grey-wolf population.

The D-N-R issued a preliminary report Tuesday, showing that Wisconsin had 658-to-687 wolves late this winter -- down from 809-to-834 at the same time a year ago. It's the first major decrease in the Wisconsin wolf numbers since the D-N-R started tracking the species' recovery about 35 years ago. The state had 25 wolves back then.

DNR large carnivore specialist Dave MacFarland says his team will have to go over the data. "But I think it's a little premature to speculate on what that process will result in. The next step in that process is a meeting of the wolf advisory committee, and at that point the committee will start the process by making a recommendation."

MacFarland says new wolf hunt numbers will take about two months to work out. "It goes to the Natural Resources Board and the final step in the process is the approval of the quotas by the Natural Resources Board at their June meeting, so there's a number of people involved and a number of steps in the process."

MacFarland told a Wolf Advisory Committee meeting in Wausau on Tuesday that last season's goal was to reduce "downward pressure" on the wolf population. Two-hundred-57 wolves were killed last fall, down from 117 in the inaugural wolf season in late 2012. In 1999, the D-N-R set a goal of 350 wolves. The population skyrocketed beyond that, and officials said they wanted to reduce the wolf numbers to a "biologically and socially acceptable level." The state was battling lawsuits to have the federal government keep Upper Midwest wolves as a protected, endangered species.

The Obama White House found a way to declassify them two-and-a-half years ago, thus giving the states the right to manage their herds and hold wolf hunts. The Humane Society of the United States balked at that, and has filed suit to restore federal protections. MacFarland says they'll be hearing from a number of stakeholders through the process. "It's an issue that a lot of groups are engaged in, and it's our challenge as an agency is to balance the very diverse points of view on the issue and come up with policies that accurately reflect the will of the people in the state."

The Humane Society lawsuit is still pending in the courts.