In the early days of January 2021, the gray wolf was officially removed from the Endangered Species Act’s (ESA) List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.[1] By February 2, 2021, the hunter advocacy group, Hunter Nation, had filed a lawsuit in Jefferson County, Wisconsin, against the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) alleging the agency violated state law by failing to schedule a wolf hunt after the delisting of the gray wolf had taken effect.[2] A little more than a week later, the court ruled in favor of Hunter Nation and forced the DNR to hold a wolf hunt by the end of the month.[3] The outcome was devastating.

The DNR had set the quota at 200.[4] This total included the 81 wolves granted to the Chippewa tribes in accordance with federal treaty rights.[5] Because Indigenous culture considers wolves to be family, the Chippewa tribes do not hunt their share of the quota.[6] That meant that a total of 119 wolves were up for grabs for hunters and trappers.[7] Yet, in a matter of just 72 hours, hunters had killed 218 wolves.[8] It is important to note that while these numbers may seem small, the total wolf population in Wisconsin was only estimated to be around 1,100 prior to the botched hunt in February.[9]

Still, this past summer, Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board voted to set the November hunt quota at 300.[10] Two lawsuits have since been filed; one by a coalition of animal advocacy groups in Dane County Circuit Court to challenge both the constitutionality of the Wisconsin law that mandates the wolf hunt and the egregious quota set by the Board and the other by six Chippewa tribes in federal court alleging that the Board’s November quota is a violation of federal treaty rights.[11]

In a surprise move, the Wisconsin DNR announced on October 4, 2021, that they would not be using the Board’s approved quota of 300 and were, instead, setting the November quota at 130.[12] This would allow for 74 wolves to be hunted and allocate the remaining 56 wolves to Chippewa tribes.[13] Additionally, the DNR stated they would limit the number of licenses sold to 370 (five per wolf).[14] This is drastically lower than the proposed 20 licenses per wolf the DNR made available during the February hunt.[15]

Then on October 22, 2021, a Dane County Circuit Court judge ruled that the wolf hunt was unconstitutional.[16] The state responded by setting the quota to zero and refusing to issue permits for the season that was supposed to begin on November 6, 2021.[17] However, this move is only temporary until the DNR presents a permanent plan that accounts for long-term effective management of the wolf population.[18]

While Wisconsin is the only state with a law mandating a wolf hunt, it is not the only state that currently poses an imminent, catastrophic threat to the wolf population. Idaho, for example, rushed legislation through back in May that allows for 90 percent of the state’s wolves to be hunted.[19] This amounts to more than 1,300 wolves that could be killed in Idaho, alone. This number is especially shocking considering that, as of 2020, the gray wolf population in the lower 48 states was only estimated to be around 7,500.[20]

Montana has also loosened regulations on wolf hunts, while Michigan and Minnesota prepare to implement a wolf hunting season for the 2022 season.[21]

We Need Wolves to Combat the Climate Crisis

So, what do wolf hunts have to do with the climate crisis? Well, as it turns out, a lot. Wolves are a keystone species, meaning their presence in the ecosystem is absolutely vital to maintaining the status quo.[22] As large predators, wolves are one of the few actors in the North American ecosystem that provide the necessary balance between plant and animal life, and the rest of us depend on this delicate balance for survival.[23]

A healthy wolf population will naturally quell a growing deer population, often preying on diseased deer, limiting the amount of contact humans have with potentially dangerous diseases such as chronic wasting disease.[24] Perhaps more importantly, though, plant diversity is able to flourish when wolves control the populations of deer, elk, and moose. [25] Two ways wolves do this are by killing parts of these populations which minimizes grazing and because the presence of wolves scares away grazers from river beds allowing plants time to grow.[26] In Wisconsin, plant diversity can be cut by 4o percent when deer are overpopulated.[27]

Plant diversity is crucial to combating climate change. Plants thrive, tree biomass increases, and carbon storage is greatly enhanced when herbivores such as deer and elk are naturally regulated by wolves.[28]

Just how much of a difference can this actually make, though? In Canada’s boreal forest, the presence of wolves who control the moose population has had an effect on carbon storage that is equivalent to eliminating the tailpipe emissions of somewhere between 33 and 71 million cars for an entire year.[29]

Given the climate crisis we are currently facing and the failure by our government to move swiftly on climate legislation, there doesn’t appear to be much room for indecision—or worse, decisive action that objectively harms the planet—by those with the power to act. Protecting the current wolf population and supporting its growth by relisting the gray wolf as an endangered species seems to be the least we could do as an immediate intervention, especially considering the overt plans to eradicate wolves in the states with the most substantial populations.

Multiple groups including a bipartisan delegation comprised of 85 members of Congress, a group of 200 tribal leaders from across the country, and The Global Indigenous Council have all called on Deb Haaland, the Interior Secretary, to reinstate federal protections for the gray wolf.[30] So far, Haaland has remained silent on the matter, effectively allowing wolf hunts across the country to begin.

So while the Biden administration is off gallivanting around the world on a mission of performative activism for the fight against climate change, back home they have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Hunting lobbyists and state governments—both of whom profit significantly from robust hunting seasons—are set to decimate what’s left of our wolf population. For now, only one circuit court judge has been willing to stand in the way.



[1] Will Cushman, Why the Impact of Wisconsin’s February Wolf Hunt Is So Uncertain, PBS Wis. (Feb. 23, 2021), [].

[2] Judge Orders Wisconsin DNR to Hold February 2021 Gray Wolf Hunt, (Feb. 11, 2021), [].

[3] Id.

[4] See Cushman, supra note 1.

[5] Id.

[6] Jessie Opoien, A guide to the legal battles over Wisconsin’s wolf hunt, The Capital Times (Sep. 4, 2021), [].

[7] See Cushman, supra note 1.

[8] Danielle Kaeding, DNR sets quota of 130 wolves for Wisconsin’s fall wolf hunt, Wisc. Pub. Radio (Oct. 4, 2021), [].

[9] See Opoien, supra note 6.

[10] Id.

[11] Wisconsin Tribes Sue the State for Treaty Violations Over Wolf Hunt, Earthjustice (Sep. 21, 2021), []. See also Opoien, supra note 6.

[12] See Kaeding, supra note 8.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Paul A. Smith, Wolf hunting season begins with kill quota of 119 after tribes declare 50% of harvest in ceded territory, Milw. J. & Sent. (Feb. 22, 2021), [].

[16] Rob Mentzer, Federal judge declines to issue new injunction on Wisconsin wolf hunt, Wisc. Pub. Radio (Oct. 29, 2021), [].

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Lindsey Botts, Idaho Legislature Sets Sights on Wolf Extermination, Sierra Club (May 3, 2021), [].

[20] Tess Joosse, Wolf Populations Drop as More States Allow Hunting, Scientific Am. (Sep. 7, 2021), [].

[21] Id.

[22] Biodiversity, (last visited Nov. 5, 2021), [].

[23] Jennifer Sherry, How Wolves and other Wildlife Help Us Fight for the Climate, Nat’l Res. Def. Council (May 21, 2021), [].

[24] Protecting Wisconsin’s Wolves: The Future of Responsible Wolf Management, (last visited Nov. 5, 2021), [].

[25]  See Sherry, supra note 23.

[26] See Biodiversity, supra note 22.

[27] See Protecting Wisconsin’s Wolves, supra note 24.

[28] Id.

[29] See Sherry, supra note 23.

[30] Indigenous-Directed Short Film Asks Interior Secretary Haaland to Return Federal Protection to Gray Wolves, Ctr.  for Biological Diversity (Jul. 7, 2021), []. See also Bipartisan Delegation Urges Interior Department to Relist Gray Wolves, (Jul. 30, 2021), []; Levi Rickert, Tribal Leaders Urge Interior Sec. Deb Haaland for Tribal Consultation to Protect Gray Wolves, (Sep. 14, 2021),,to%20wolves%20for%20240%20days [].