The Natural Resources Board (NRB) approved a harvest quota of 200 wolves at a special virtual meeting Monday as the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was forced to launch a wolf hunt yet this winter.

DNR wildlife experts said they considered several factors in coming up with the quota recommendation, including the most recent population estimate of more than 1,500 wolves, the public response to earlier harvests, the current manage­-

ment plan and other research.

Wisconsin law mandates the DNR run a wolf season from November through the end of February, a timeline that was thrown into the spotlight when wolves were delisted in early January. 

The NRB also approved issuing 4,000 permits to meet the quota.

The application window opens almost immediately — at 12:01 a.m. Feb. 16 — and closes Feb. 20 at 11:59 p.m. Hunters and trappers will be able to view drawing results on Feb. 22. Drawing winners may begin hunting and trapping on Feb. 22 after first buying their license and printing their carcass tag. The season will run through Feb. 28.

It costs $10 to apply. The license costs $49. Applicants may seek a harvest tag or apply just for a preference point.

The U.S. Fish and Wild­life Service proposed removing the gray wolf from protection under the Endangered Species Act in March 2019. Then on Nov. 3, 2020, U.S Fish and Wildlife promulgated a final rule to delist the gray wolf effective Jan. 4, 2021.

The Wisconsin DNR announced earlier this year that they would hold a wolf hunt starting in November 2021.

But Hunter Nation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting America’s hunting heritage, along with the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), won a lawsuit against the Wisconsin DNR for not scheduling a wolf hunt season this winter.

Jefferson County Circuit Judge Bennett J. Brantmeier issued a writ of mandamus last Thursday requiring the Wisconsin DNR to hold a gray wolf hunt starting in February 2021. Judge Brantmeier found that the Wisconsin DNR violated state law by refusing to schedule a winter 2021 gray wolf hunt when the gray wolf was delisted from the Endangered Species Act on Jan. 4, 2021.

Judge Brantmeier also ordered a hearing on Feb. 16 to update the court on the DNR’s progress in following the writ of mandamus.

“This is a historic victory for the Wisconsin hunter and our constitutionally protected right to hunt and manage our wildlife here in Wisconsin,” said Luke Hilgemann, president of Hunter Nation. “Today’s ruling solidifies the rule of law and finally provides clear direction to the Evers’ administration to move full speed ahead with our statutorily required wolf hunt. Any attempts by the Evers’ administration to overturn this ruling are a direct assault to the constitutional rights of Wisconsin hunters.”

Hilgemann said Wisconsin state law is clear that if the gray wolf is not protected by the Endangered Species Act, the Wisconsin DNR “shall allow the hunting and trapping of wolves.” The law further states that the DNR must “establish a single annual open season for both hunting and trapping wolves that begins on the first Saturday in November of each year and ends on the last day of February of the following year.”

Hunter Nation and WILL sued the Wisconsin DNR on Feb. 2, 2021, arguing that state law clearly directed DNR to conduct a gray wolf hunt in winter 2021.

“We are pleased the court recognized that the Wisconsin DNR ignored state law by refusing to undertake its obligation to hold a winter 2021 wolf hunt. It is not up to state agencies to decide when to follow the directives in state law,” said WILL Deputy Counsel Anthony LoCoco.

LoCoco said the Wisconsin DNR, despite years of advance warning and months to prepare for a January 2021 delisting of the gray wolf, refused to permit the hunting and trapping of wolves in January and February of 2021.

When the Wisconsin DNR was permitted to manage the gray wolf during a short-lived earlier delisting, Wisconsin held wolf hunting seasons in 2012, ’13 and ’14.

The most recent monitoring effort indicated a minimum of 1,034 wolves in Wisconsin, primarily across the northern third of the state and the Central Forest region. Using a new occupancy model, the DNR estimated that there are between 957 and 1,573 wolves, or an increase from 243 packs to 256 packs from the previous year.

The existing wolf management plan, originally approved in 1999, was reviewed and updated in 2007 and helped guide recovery efforts in the state.