Wisconsin has a long running history with timber wolves, also known as gray wolves. Since 1960, their population has varied significantly.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), has tracked the wolf population for nearly 40 years. Before tracking began, there were an estimated 3,000-5,000 wolves. Settlers transitioned the state landscape to accommodate farming and hunted prey such as deer, elk, and bison. With these species in decline, wolves began to hunt livestock. Upon requests from farmers, in 1865 Wisconsin legislators passed a state bounty offering $5 for every wolf killed, later increasing that to $20 for adults and $10 for pups. The state bounty continued until 1957.
Wolves were declared eliminated from Wisconsin by 1960, while there were about 350-500 wolves that remained in Minnesota. On the federal level, wolves were recognized and given protection under the Endangered Species Act. The wolves’ population increased and they expanded to northern Wisconsin in the mid-1970s.
The DNR began an intense monitoring of wolves in 1979. They were tracked using radio collars and howl surveys. In 1980, 25 wolves were in the state but the number dropped to 14 in 1985 because of parvovirus that reduced the pups’ survival and killed adults. The Wisconsin DNR completed a wolf recovery plan in 1989. By 1990, the population of wolves quickly rebounded. But in 1999, the state reclassified wolves as threatened, rather than an endangered species. With 373 wolves in Wisconsin, the DNR assumed management of the wolf population.
By 2014, there were 660 wolves, and in 2016, there are about less than 900 in northern Wisconsin. This was a 16 percent increase from the previous year.
The DNR's actions have successfully controlled the wolf population.