Experts Propose New Methods for Managing WI Wildlife
Monday, February 14, 2022
A federal judge has restored endangered species protections to gray wolves across much of the Lower 48, including Wisconsin.
While conservation groups cheer the decision, some experts are urging states to learn from what they believe was mismanagement of wolf populations.
Adrian Treves, founder of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Carnivore Coexistence Lab, said wildlife management strategies give preference to a small subset of the population: hunters. He argued current standards for large carnivore management are based on either outdated, or false, science.
"Wisconsin gives us an immediate, current example of that, where wolf management was largely devoid of the latest science and didn't use the best available, although it was placed in front of the agency," Treves asserted.
While this season's wolf hunt was placed on hold due to a lawsuit, last February's hunt ended with 218 wolf deaths, blowing past the quota of 119. Hunters and their advocacy groups contended the wolf population has stabilized in recent years, and states should manage the species, not the federal government.
Treves and other environmental advocates are calling for a new wildlife management policy based on the public trust doctrine, which urges certain resources be preserved for the public and future generations. Under the model, Treves emphasized managing wildlife would be a cooperative effort between states, tribes and the federal government.
"If we stop thinking about wildlife as 'owned,' but more as a legacy asset, that's probably the thinking that's appropriate," Treves observed. "National parks are also legacy assets in the same way."
Kevin Bixby, executive director of Wildlife For All, agreed the current method of wildlife management is out of step with modern ecological knowledge. He also thinks states should abolish or significantly reform policy-setting wildlife commissions, which he said are often comprised of political appointees, and change the funding mechanisms for wildlife agencies.
"Hunters like to say that they pay for conservation, because agencies have historically, and still, get a good portion of their revenues from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses," Bixby pointed out.
Wisconsin's wildlife commission, the Natural Resources Board, has seen its fair share of controversy. Its former chair, Frederick Prehn, an appointee of former Republican Gov. Scott Walker, has for months refused to step down from the board to make way for a new member appointed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.
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