For the first time in history, hunters in Wisconsin and Minnesota will be allowed to bait, shoot and trap Great Lakes wolves. The new provisions surprised many, given that these animals were removed from the endangered species list less than a year ago.
Hunting permits in Wisconsin will allow 1,160 hunters to kill 201 of the estimated 800 wolves in the state—more than a quarter of the population.
In nearby Minnesota, home to about 3,000 wolves, hunters will be allowed to kill 400 wolves.
And they're ready. Many hunters see killing a wolf as a rare opportunity due to the long-standing ban. The species' intelligence and keen sense of smell make the prospect of hunting them even more appealing to some.
"This is the ultimate challenge," said Joe Caputo, a hunter from Wisconsin, in an interview with the AP. "You're talking the largest-scale predator on the landscape.”
However, some conservationists worry about the effects of such a hunt when the stability of the wolf population is not yet fully 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."
But here's the most ironic part of the story: While initiatives to protect the wolves were previously funded by the Endangered Resources Fund, money for conservation will now come from hunting permits and licenses, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The hunt began on Monday and, in the first 24 hours, at least four wolves were shot and killed, according to the State Department of Natural Resources.
At its peak in the 19th century, the region’s wolf population included about 5,000 individuals. By the 1950s, however, the wolves had nearly been hunt to extinction. The wolves were classified as an endangered species in 1973, then as “threatened” in 2003.