As many as one-third of Wisconsin's gray wolves likely died at the hands of humans in the months after the federal government announced it was ending legal protections, according to a new study. Poaching and a February hunt that far exceeded kill quotas were largely responsible for the drop-off, University of Wisconsin scientists said, per the AP, though some other scientists say more direct evidence is needed for some of the calculations. Adrian Treves, an environmental studies professor, said his team's findings should raise doubts about having another hunting season this fall—a kill quota is to be announced in August—and serve notice to wildlife managers in other states with wolves. Removing federal protections "opens the door for antagonists to kill large numbers in short periods, legally and illegally," Treves and colleagues said in a paper published by the journal PeerJ.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service under President Trump dropped protected status for gray wolves in the Lower 48 states in January. Environmental and animal-rights groups say this was premature as wolves haven't returned to most of their historical range. Wisconsin was the first state to resume hunting, and its wildlife officials had to schedule a hunt in February, during the wolves' breeding season, after a pro-hunting organization won a court order. Hunters killed 218 wolves, blowing past the target of 119. The study found people killed an additional 95 to 105 wolves in Wisconsin between Nov. 3, when the plan to lift federal protections was announced, and mid-April, with poaching cited in more than half of those deaths. "The combined loss of 313 to 323 wolves represents a decline in the state's wolf population of between 27% and 33% between April 2020 and April 2021," per a release. It now sits at between 695 and 751, down from at least 1,034.
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