The wolf enters a different era in Wisconsin, today, and Minnesota later this fall: For the first time in recent history, hunters in those two states will be allowed to bait, shoot and trap wolves.
The Green Bay Press Gazette reports that the move comes after the Federal government "removed Great Lakes wolves from the endangered species list in January."
The hunt has sparked a great deal of both excitement and criticism. Animal activists insist that lawmakers in both states acted too quickly without taking into account what this could mean for the wolves. They took the states to court and as Minnesota Public Radio reports in that state they have been able to temporarily stop hunters from using dogs.
"One of our biggest issues is the fact that this hunt is not based on sound science or peer reviewed research," Nancy Warren, of the National Wolfwatcher Coalition told MPR. "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."
She points out, for example, that there is no research as to how killing a key wolf could affect the larger pack.
The Christian Science Monitor reports a bit of the history of wolf hunting:
"Once abundant in Wisconsin, wolves were hunted and trapped to virtual extinction by 1960. Only a few hundred survived in northern Minnesota and on Michigan's Isle Royale.
"After they were placed under state protection in 1957 and federal protection in 1974, however, wolf populations enjoyed a remarkable resurgence. Biologists believe there are now about 850 wolves in Wisconsin, with packs roaming mostly the northern third of the state, and an estimated 3,600 more in Minnesota and Michigan's Upper Peninsula. There are nearly three times more wolves in the Midwest than in the Rocky Mountain states."
The lifting of the ban has made hunters giddy: Killing a wolf is a once-in-lifetime opportunity, they say. Partly because of the long-standing ban, partly because they are incredibly intelligent animals with a keen sense of smell, so shooting them is very hard and trapping them is also difficult.
"Everybody's gung-ho to go kill a wolf but nobody realizes how hard it's going to be," Bud Martin, a Montana-based hunting guide who shot a wolf two years ago in Idaho told the Green Bay Gazette. "I'll bet you a steak dinner your quota won't be met."
Consider the numbers laid out by the Gazette: Wisconsin will issue 1,160 permits for 116 animals. Minnesota will issue 6,000 permits for 400 animals. In Montana where hunting wolves is sanctioned, they issued 18,700 licenses in 2011 but hunters only killed 166 animals.
That only seems to be encouraging hunters.
"This is the ultimate challenge," Joe Caputo, a hunter from Wisconsin told the AP. "You're talking the largest-scale predator on the landscape."
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel also reports that initiatives to protect the wolves used to be funded out of the Endangered Resources Fund. Now, that money will come from permits and licenses.
"The sale of permits brought in $202,720. The sale of licenses ($100 each for state residents, $500 for nonresidents) is expected to bring in about $120,000 more. Through Friday, the DNR had sold 505 wolf licenses to state residents and five to nonresidents," the Journal reports.