Six years ago, after a federal court removed endangered species protections for gray wolves in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan, following their recovery from near extermination in the mid 20th Century, the state of Wisconsin was given the authority to manage the returning animals. Wolves were never hunted to complete extinction in the Great Lakes, a resilient population remained in Minnesota, and from their and a few other places, animals dispersed to Wisconsin and Michigan in the 1970’s and later.
Wisconsin’s first act of wolf management in 2011 was to authorize a recreational hunt for the estimated 880 wolves in the state. An earlier agreement for a five-year moratorium on a wolf hunt was ignored, and in 2012 licensed hunters killed 117 wolves, illegal hunters 21, with another 76 killed in response to livestock depredations. In addition to trapping and hunting, the legislature also mandated that wolves could be hunted with hounds, which was held up that first year by a legal challenge that argued that the practice was akin to legalized dog-fighting.
In 2013, Wisconsin trappers and hunters killed 257 wolves, a 119% increase from the previous year’s inaugural hunt and the first year hound’s were allowed to run down 35 wolves. In 2014, after it was reported that the state’s wolf population had declined twenty percent, the DNR reduced the quota and 154 wolves were legally killed by hunters, trappers and hounders.
In December 2014, a federal judge returned management of wolves to the federal government, not because of Wisconsin’s actions, but because of Minnesota’s faulty management plan, and ever since there have been legislative attempts to regain state control of Wisconsin’s wolf population which is still estimated to be less than a 1,000 animals.
Wisconsin’s latest attempt to regain the right to hunt, trap and hound wolves is now being argued in the state Capitol, with a bill that would prohibit state conservation officers from enforcing, reporting or assisting in the enforcement of laws that protect wolves. Assembly Bill 712/Senate Bill 602 has become known as the “Wolf Poaching Bill” and is authored by the same politicians behind the pro-bear hunting Right to Hunt Act, and federal legislation that would have returned wolves from federal to state control, and killing.
The fight against federal wolf protection in Wisconsin is being led by Tom Tiffany in the state Senate and representative Adam Jarchow, who both believe that violating federal agreements to enforce federal wildlife laws as their legislation proposes, will force a positive delisting decision. Yet those familiar with the years-long court case regarding the federal delisting of wolves, know that demonstrating responsible management authority for five years is required to retain state control of wolves, and that’s something Wisconsin is failing to do if its poaching bill passes.
This is exactly what AB712/SB602 proposes:
“This bill prohibits a law enforcement officer from enforcing a federal or state law that relates to the management of the wolf population in this state or that prohibits the killing of wolf in this state…prohibits DNR from taking any action to inform or support federal law enforcement officers regarding the enforcement of any federal or state law relating to wolves.”
Since federal protections were returned to gray wolves in Wisconsin in 2014, anti- wolf advocates frustrations have contributed to an increase in illegal wolf killings and threats. Under the new law, state conservation officers would be prevented from investigating and preventing illegal wolf killings across public and private lands in Wisconsin, including national forest lands. Wisconsin’s conservation officers are the primary enforcement body on both federal and state lands. In Wisconsin’s Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, only a handful of US Forest Service and US Fish & Wildlife law enforcement officers are available to patrol the expansive forest.
The only wolf-related duty, DNR officials would be authorized to do under Wisconsin’s poaching bill, would be continuing the program to pay hound hunters up to $2,500 for dogs injured or killed by wolves as they chase bears and other wildlife across public lands, with the money still coming from the state’s Endangered Species Fund and the sale of vanity license plates.
In lieu of any Wisconsin legislative violation of agreements to protect federally protected wildlife, there are many questions that some state lawmakers are asking. Were law enforcement agencies consulted on the drafting of this bill? No. The Wisconsin Chiefs of Police has spoken out against the law, and DNR staff was prohibited from attending or testifying at both the Assemby and Senate hearings for the proposed legislation.
Another question is whether state conservation officers who come upon an illegal wolf killing would be prohibited from passing on that information to a federal wildlife officer? Yes. Although an amendment has been proposed whereby this part of the proposed bill would be changed, but for now, the bill proposes that such law enforcement activity would be prohibited.
According to Tiffany and his followers, If some liberal judge in DC won’t allow Wisconsin sportsmen to trap, shoot, snare and hound the wolves the DNR spends so much money on, then this bill will stop cold every state conservation officer from investigating or preventing wolf poaching and any DNR staff from continuing wolf management responsibilities in the state. This bill does not encourage responsible wolf management required to regain state management, it demonstrates an unwillingness to enforce the federal Endangered Species Act when it prevents state hunters from killing wolves.
The debate over Wisconsin’s poaching bill isn’t just about state versus federal wolf control, its about a great difference of opinion in the value of wolves and all wildlife. Most proponents of the poaching bill believe wolves belong on the landscape, but in numbers not more than 200- 350 animals. They believe in controlling wildlife populations including wolves, despite science that says apex predators self-manage their population in accordance with prey populations, and despite the overwhelming evidence that shows wolves have not exceeded their carrying capacity in the state’s suitable habitat.
But even deeper is the religious beliefs expressed by state lawmakers at the Senate Committee hearing on SB602, that “Man has Dominion” over all of nature and animals. Another lawmaker asked the state representative of the Humane Society of the United States, a party in the federal wolf delisting case whether she valued a wolf’s life as much as a human’s. At the state Capitol, when the Assembly Committee voted in favor of AB712, the Chairman of the Committee said that opponents believed a wolf’s life was sacred, but that a Farmer’s life is sacred too.
Statements like those were common in the era that not only eradicated wolves, but also indigenous peoples from the landscape, the same landscape Tiffany and other delisting advocates are unwilling to share with any more than 350 wolves. The remaining estimated 650 wolves in Wisconsin have to go the way of their ancestors I guess. Such attitudes drive the campaign to kill wolves in the Great Lakes and are the reason why bear and hound hunters have such political sway in states like Wisconsin.
The attack on not just federal wolf protections, but the wolf’s very existence in Wisconsin reflects not only a belief in dominion, but one of political entitlement as well, where so many people are focused only on what they want and how they are going to get it. How dare there even be any consideration to any other opinion than the complete removal of federal wolf protections. This is the attitude the hunting lobby possesses in Wisconsin, and how they have gotten the Legislature to legalize the snaring and hound hunting of wolves, a no license required two-month hound training season, an 8-month bear baiting season (longest in the nation), a law that prohibits taking pictures of hunters on public lands, and the new law that allows babies to get hunting licenses.
At the January Senate hearing on the wolf poaching bill, Sen. Tiffany referred to the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation while arguing for state management of wolves. The NAMWC is a set of principles behind every state wildlife agency, that have long guided wildlife management and conservation decisions in the United States. They aren’t a binding legal agreement, but help policy makers remember that science not politics should guide wildlife management.
Wildlife as a public trust resource, the elimination of commercial markets for game, the allocation of wildlife by law, that wildlife should only be killed for a legitimate purpose, that wildlife is considered an international resource, that science is the proper tool for discharge of wildlife policy and the democracy of hunting are all principles of the NAMWC that say first and foremost, that wildlife doesn’t belong only to hunters and license purchasers, wildlife, including wolves, are a public trust resource that belongs to everyone, and should never fall victim to commercial exploitation or the kind of political threats now being played out in Wisconsin.
There’s two places where Wisconsin’s wolf poaching bill flies in the face of the NAMWC, the first is in the tenet about elimination of markets for game which states, “Commercial hunting and the sale of wildlife is prohibited to ensure the sustainability of wildlife population.” When wolf hunting and trapping became legal again in 2012, it also became legal to sell the pelts from any of the wolves killed. Any Wisconsin management plan for wolves must by state law include a trapping season, with the public trust wildlife legally sold to the highest bidders at annual fur markets.
That’s not news, trappers have always been able to sell their furs on the open market, but the poaching bill also attacks state funded biological work, including monitoring and tracking and other scientific methods used by the DNR to help manage wolves. Such an attack on the scientific study of a species is exactly the kind of wildlife management the NAMWC was meant to discourage.
Here’s what the NAMWC “Science is the Proper Tool for Discharge of Wildlife Policy” states:
“The North American Model recognizes science as a basis for informed management and decision-making processes. This tenet draws from the writings of Aldo Leopold, who in the 1930s called for a wildlife conservation movement facilitated by trained wildlife biologists that made decisions based on facts, professional experience, and commitment to shared underlying principles, rather than strictly interests of hunting, stocking, or culling of predators. Science in wildlife policy includes studies of population dynamics, behavior, habitat, adaptive management, and national surveys of hunting and fishing.”
But at the January hearing on the wolf poaching bill at the state Capitol, Sen. Tom Tiffany said, “We do not want sportsman’s dollars going to programs that we cannot control” arguing that hunting license fees shouldn’t be spent on species out of the state’s management reach, like wolves. Tiffany and many sportsmen believe that because their license fees go towards wildlife programs, then they should be able to control them. This is the narcissism that has led to hunters in places like Wisconsin managing animals for their own benefit, not with consideration for the species, let alone the majority public who do not hunt.
Not all politicians are pandering to the hunting lobby in Wisconsin though, State Senator Fred Risser introduced three bills in January, that would reverse the 2013 legislation allowing hunting and trapping in state parks. The other bill would eliminate compensation for hound hunters whose dogs are injured or killed by wolves. In a press release Risser said, “Hunters are given a lot of free reign on where they can hunt in our state. State parks should not be an option. Many people who do not hunt or trap animals also enjoy nature, and those Wisconsinites ought to be able to visit our State’s beautiful parks without the worry that they, or their dogs, may be shot or caught in a trap.” His statement reflects outrage over the recent incident where a Wisconsin man shot and killed a woman’s two dogs, who were on a walk wearing reflective vests in a state park, while he was legally hunting coyotes.
WOLF PATROL’S RESPONSE TO ASSEMBLY BILL 712/SENATE BILL 602
Wolf Patrol believes the Endangered Species Act is the legal cornerstone protecting America’s natural heritage from the wildlife exploitation and extermination policies of the past. We believe in the rigorous enforcement of all county, state and federal laws pertaining to wolves, and support Department of Natural Resources, US Fish & Wildlife Service and US Forest Service law enforcement officers charged with protecting wolves and other wildlife.
Wolf Patrol also supports the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, and its intent to prevent the commercial take of any wildlife and allowing science to guide policy decisions. Since 2014, Wolf Patrol citizen monitors have investigated and documented hunting practices on federal lands that lead to deadly conflicts between hunting dogs and gray wolves, such as the use of bear baiting and hounds to chase bears through wolf territory. In 2016, a record number of hunting hounds were killed by wolves (42) in over 31 separate fights, most of the conflicts occurred in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.
Our primary focus has always been to investigate, and hopefully help prevent conflicts with wolves on public lands. What we’ve learned since federal wolf protections were reinstated in 2014, is its often national forest lands in Wisconsin where illegal wolf killings are now being reported, so right now is the time to be very concerned with the enforcement of federal and state wildlife laws on all public lands.
If state lawmakers prohibit Wisconsin DNR conservation officers from protecting federally protected gray wolves, Wolf Patrol feels there’s reason to believe more wolves will be illegally killed, especially by those running hounds on wolf, bear, coyote and bobcat who already demonstrate a low tolerance for wolves. What is needed is more, not less, enforcement of federal laws protecting gray wolves on our national forest lands. Enforcing federal wildlife laws serves as an important deterrent to would be poachers, and without robust enforcement, wolves will continue to be eradicated in Wisconsin and elsewhere.
Here are a few recent wolf killings Wolf Patrol is hoping for strict enforcement action on:
- On November 14, 2017, Michigan conservation of ficers located a dead wolf hidden under a tree with evidence suggesting the animal was shot. Of ficers located a trap site nearby and evidence was gathered suggesting the wolf was caught in a trap, shot and then hidden. Two days later, the of ficers obtained a confession from a trapper who stated he had caught the animal and shot it.
- On November 18, 2017, Steven Kohl of Manitowoc shot a wolf with a tracking collar on the first day of deer season. Kohl and another hunter were also issued citations for illegal baiting.
- In January 2018, a man spotted a wolf in a roadside trap near Hertel, Wisconsin. He took pictures which he posted to Facebook and when he returned to the site, he witnessed the trapper dragging the illegally killed wolf to his vehicle. The incident was reported to the DNR and the witness interviewed, but if the poaching bill passes, the law will require the game warden to not only look the other way, but would also prohibit them from sharing any information on the case with federal law enforcement officers.
As an organization opposed to the illegal killing of gray wolves, Wolf Patrol believes that pending legislation attacking federal wolf protections will result in more state sanctioned illegal wolf killings. If Wisconsin’s goal is to regain management authority over wolves, then cutting funding for wolf-related research is a terrible idea. The only path towards management authority for Wisconsin is to recognize the legal and ethical contradictions the management practices of hounding, trapping and snaring pose to maintaining a sustainable wolf population, and thereby rescind legislation making these practices legal.
In the meantime, citizen monitoring of controversial hunting practices in known wolf territory on public lands will continue, and if AB712/SB602 passes, there will be an increase towards regular weekly patrols. If protecting wolves becomes illegal in Wisconsin, than Wolf Patrol will step up, and increase its patrolling of public lands where wolf poaching is known or suspected to occur.
Its time for the vast majority of Wisconsin residents and ethical sportspeople to do their part and make the call for protecting the wolves of Wisconsin. If you can’t volunteer to patrol wolf habitat in your area, then consider dedicating April 11, 2018 for lobbying state officials on behalf of wolves. Here’s a link to find out how:
And if you agree that Wisconsin’s anti-wolf hunting minority deserves to be watched, please consider contributing to Wolf Patrol’s efforts to monitor hunting activities on public lands. If AB712/SB602 passes, the few federal agents responsible for protecting millions of acres of public lands will have their hands full, while state conservation officers would be forbidden from doing their jobs. Help be a force for change by supporting the citizen’s police force for wolves!