MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin's first organized wolf hunt got under way Monday even as animal welfare advocates demanded federal officials return Great Lake wolves to the endangered species list.
No hunters had reported kills by late Monday afternoon, which wasn't surprising. The state Department of Natural Resources gives hunters 24 hours to contact the agency, and wolves are extremely elusive creatures.
In addition, only about half of the hunters eligible to buy a wolf license had done so by Monday, with many saying they might wait for snow to make tracking easier. The hunt runs through February.
Mark Dahms, a 54-year-old electrician from Waukesha in suburban Milwaukee, was one of 1,160 people to win the right to buy a license through a state lottery. He bought a brand-new electronic call that mimics 400 animal sounds and headed to the Tomahawk area in far northern Wisconsin on Saturday to prepare for the hunt.
He said he went out into the woods at dawn Monday and used his call. He attracted a hawk, but no wolf. Dahms said he wasn't discouraged. He got to spend a gorgeous 60-degree day in the woods and spotted some fresh wolf droppings. He plans to spend the rest of the week hunting.
"It's only the first few hours," Dahms said. "Beautiful day in northern Wisconsin."
Federal officials placed gray wolves on the endangered species list in 1974. Today, wildlife officials estimate as many as 850 wolves roam Wisconsin and another 3,000 live in Minnesota. More wolves, though, have meant more complaints from farmers about the animals preying on their livestock.
When federal officials removed wolves in the Great Lakes region from the endangered list earlier this year, Wisconsin and Minnesota set up hunts. Michigan has legislation pending.
In Wisconsin, officials plan to halt the hunt once 116 wolves have been killed.
Minnesota set its quota at 400 animals for a hunt that runs from Nov. 3 to Jan. 31 and made 6,000 licenses available through an automated lottery similar to Wisconsin's. Less than a third of the winners in that state have purchased licenses so far.
Animal welfare groups that opposed the delisting continue to fight both hunts.
The Humane Society of the United States and the Fund for Animals sent notice Monday to the U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that it will sue if Great Lakes wolves aren't placed back on the endangered species list within 60 days.
"It is painfully clear that federal protection must be reasserted," HSUS President Wayne Pacelle said in a statement. "The states have allowed the most extreme voices to grab hold of wolf management, and the result could be devastating for this species."
Telephone messages left with a U.S. Department of the Interior spokeswoman and USFWS officials late Monday afternoon weren't immediately returned.
In Minnesota, the Center for Biological Diversity and Howling for Wolves filed an emergency request with the state Supreme Court to block that state's hunt, claiming the Minnesota DNR's process for taking public comments on the season fell short of requirements. A state appeals court rejected the groups' allegations last week.