Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) has published the regulations for it’s court-ordered wolf hunt which is set to begin on Monday February 22, 2021. The state of Wisconsin and the WDNR’s appeal of the Jefferson County court ruling brought about by the Kansas-based Hunter Nation lobbying group is expected to be ruled on before the hunt starts Monday.
The facts are plainly simple, this expedited wolf hunt is the result of a special interest group’s lawsuit, not the recommendations of a single WDNR biologist. The state of Wisconsin does not even have a qualified wolf biologist as it’s Large Carnivore Specialist, instead in the rush for this hunt it called on the previous Large Carnivore Specialist who signed off on Wisconsin’s wolf hunt in 2012-14. Nothing about the hunt is cautionary, despite the fact that it is the first wolf hunt of its kind beginning and ending in the midst of gray wolf breeding season.
In the rush to kill as many wolves as possibly in the 8-day season, the Natural Resources Board is allowing every big game hunting method allowed. 4,000 licensed wolf hunters will be allowed to pursue wolves with packs of up to six hunting dogs from sunrise to sunset while predator callers using electronic and mouth calls can hunt wolves 24 hours a day. In addition, as is the case with Wisconsin’s bear hunting, up to ten gallons of non-animal based bait can be used to attract wolves as well as foothold traps and cable-retraints.
It is Wolf Patrol’s prediction that the quotas in each wolf hunting zone will be filled in the first few days of the hunt and the total kill will far surpass that allowed for the entire state, which is 200 animals. Once a quota has been reached in a wolf zone, WDNR is still allowing licensed wolf hunters 24 hours to continue hunting. Meanwhile prospective wolf hunters in Wisconsin are already calling for others to “kill ten and report one” or simply “leave them lay.”
The February 2021 Wisconsin wolf hunt will not be a hunt, it’ll be a slaughter. Allowing thousands of hunters, trappers, hounders and baiters to enter Wisconsin’s wolf territory during a hard winter with heavy snow will surely lead to many more than 200 wolves being killed before the WDNR responds and closes the hunt early.
Wolf Patrol is calling on opponents of Wisconsin’s unlawful wolf hunt to enter the lottery for one of the 2,000 licenses that will be issued on February 22, 2021 to kill a wolf. WDNR will be issuing 4,000 wolf tags, but 2,000 will be awarded to licensed hunters with preference points purchased in years past. The application fee is just $10.00 and if you are drawn for a wolf tag, Wolf Patrol will pay for your license and offer you an all expenses paid tour of Wisconsin’s wolf country during the 7-day hunt!
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources press release announcing February 2021 wolf hunt:
Anyone can enter the lottery for the chance to kill a Wisconsin wolf. Legal hunting methods include shooting, trapping, calling, baiting and the use of hounds. Wisconsin is the only state in the nation that allows wolves to be hunted with dogs. Anyone can enter the lottery. Even if you live in Antarctica and love wolves, you can still enter for a chance to win! Simply visit the “GOWILD” website listed below, create a profile and click on “Buy Permit Applications.” You will be charged $10.00 now and if you are drawn for a permit, you will be asked to buy the license for either $49.00 if you are a Wisconsin resident, or $251 if a nonresident. Wolf Patrol will reimburse all your permit application and license fee if you are a lucky winner!
Unfortunately, thousands of prospective wolf hunters will be awarded a license to kill a gray wolf in Wisconsin. Four thousand to be exact. That means literally thousands of hunters will be combing the Northwoods of Wisconsin over a period of only 7 days, trying to kill one of the allowed 200 wolves before the quota is filled and closes. Because of the sheer number of hunters able to be in the field where they will not know if their hunting zone is closed or not, the quota of 200 wolves is sure to be exceeded as it was for the last Wisconsin’s wolf hunt in 2014.
The killing of wolves in Wisconsin is no joke. Ever since the federal government relisted wolves as endangered in 2014, individuals have increased illegal killings and even poisonings that have killed far more than wolves. Also, this rushed illegitimate wolf hunt is in violation of treaty obligations with the sovereign nations Wisconsin shares its borders with. It is also a violation of the public’s trust, after we were told in both December 2020 and January 2021 by the Natural Resources Board that there would be no hunt without a new wolf management plan, Wolf Advisory Committee, and process involving the public and all interested stakeholders.
Left out of the process we were promised, opponents of this quasi-legitimate hunt are left with the hope that the state’s own appeal of the court ordered hunt will prevent the killing of over two hundred gray wolves during breeding season. There is no biological justification for a wolf hunt during breeding season. There has never been a recreational hunt like this in Wisconsin’s few legal hunts. In 2012, 2013 & 2014 the quotas filled before December. This hunt very likely could target a large proportion of pregnant females, killing not just one wolf but many pups as well.
Wolf Patrol was the only organization monitoring Wisconsin’s wolf hunt in 2014, and we will again be witness to this mass slaughter and will be gathering evidence for all lawsuits that are sure to follow. As in years past, Wolf Patrol monitors will be abiding by all local, state and federal laws and exercising our constitutional right to observe the wolf hunt from public roads and lands. In addition, any violations of Wisconsin’s hunting regulations will be documented and reported to WDNR.
Now hurry and visit the link below to enter the lottery to be a part of Wisconsin wolf history! You only have until Saturday February 20th at 11:59PM CT to enter!
Here’s the link to today’s Natural Resources Board meeting. Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources doesn’t even have it’s own qualified wolf biologist, the current Large Carnivore Specialist has no background in wolves so they had to pull in the former head of that department who had less than 72 hours to “make a scientific recommendation” for a wolf hunt that will begin next week and last one week. We’ll let the “experts” speak for themselves:
The last two months have been confusing as Wisconsin regains the responsibility to manage gray wolves after they were officially delisted. By state law, the Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) must organize a recreational wolf hunt anytime the animals are under state authority, as they currently are as of January 4th, 2021. The problem is, state law also says a hunt must begin in November and end in February. In December 2020, a WDNR press release stated that there would be no wolf hunt until November 2021, allowing the necessary time to consult with tribes, stakeholders, assemble a new Wolf Advisory Committee, and draft a new wolf management plan.
In January 2021 however, Wisconsin state senators Rob Stafsholt and Tom Tiffany held an informational hearing which took public testimony in support of an immediate wolf hunt in January/February 2021. This hearing led to an Emergency Meeting of the Natural Resources Board (NRB) on January 22, that left tribal authorities, biologists and supporters with only three days notice to prepare testimony and submit comments on a proposed immediate wolf hunt. Despite 5 hours of testimony, the majority opposed to the proposed hunt, NRB members quickly moved to discussion on a quota for an immediate hunt. A vote was then held to allow the hunt with members only voting against after the state’s legal counsel advised it’d be in violation of treaty obligations.
It’s important to note that at none of this time has WDNR endorsed a January/February 2021 wolf hunt. Their own biologist know that such a hunt would be during gray wolf breeding season when many females are pregnant as well as during the WDNR’s annual Large Carnivore Survey. At the January NRB meeting, WDNR’s Director, Cole Preston echoed the December WDNR press release stating the many steps that needed to be taken before even a hunt could begin in November.
On February 2, 2021 the sport hunting lobby group, Hunter Nation filed a lawsuit to force the state to conduct an immediate wolf hunt in the time that remained before state law says any wolf hunt should end in February. The out-of-state Hunter Nation lawsuit intentionally ignores all state treaty obligations and provides no scientific evidence to warrant an immediate wolf hunt, other than to argue that such a hunt was needed before the Biden Administration might restore federal protection to gray wolves in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan.
On February 11, a Jefferson County judge ruled in favor of Hunter Nation, forcing WDNR to divert attention and resources from other departments to begin the necessary steps to enact an immediate wolf hunt, while at the same time appealing the court order to hold a hunt. In accordance with the court order, the Natural Resources Board is once again holding an Emergency Meeting, this time to simply set the quota for the hunt they already tried to force WDNR to conduct. The February 15th NRB meeting is only taking comments on a proposed quota while disenfranchising any other legal, public or government interest in opposing a February 2021 wolf hunt.
Also on Monday February 15th, the state of Wisconsin and WDNR have asked the court to rule on the following appeal and Motion for an Expedited Stay of the Jefferson County court order. Wolf Patrol will report on both the NRB meeting and court ruling by the end of the day tomorrow!
COMBINED EMERGENCY PETITION FOR PERMISSIVE APPEAL AND SUPPORTING MEMORANDUM:
MOTION FOR AN EXPEDITED STAY OF THE CIRCUIT COURT’S ORDER, ENTERED FEBRUARY 12, 2021:
THE PROPOSED FEBRUARY 2021 WISCONSIN WOLF HUNT AS PROPOSED BY WDNR:
LINK TO FEBRUARY 15, 2021 NATURAL RESOURCES BOARD MEETING AGENDA:
Every winter across America a new breed of hunters take to the field, coyote hound hunters. While hunting coyotes has long been a favorite sport to those looking to take advantage of the year-round open season or no bag limit restrictions in most states, hunting coyotes with other dogs as a sport is growing.
With the argument that coyotes are an abundant “out-of-control” predator threatening livestock and pets, most states like Wisconsin allow coyotes to be hunted with a variety of means including hounds. Most coyote hound hunters use their dogs to hunt bear, bobcat and other game as well. But in the off-season, it’s coyotes that many hunt to keep their dogs in shape.
Today’s hound hunter couldn’t find a coyote in a cornfield, if it wasn’t for the Global Positioning Satelittes (GPS) collars fitted on each hound or the radios and trucks they use to corner and kill coyotes. Most hound hunters hunt in groups with packs of fresh dogs read to replace tired ones in a coyote chase, which can last hours and dozens of miles. Often when coyote hound hunters “bay” their prey, that is corner and surround it, coyote hounds are then encouraged to fight and kill the exhausted coyote.
The winter of 2020-2021 has been a busy one for coyote hound hunters who use private Facebook groups to share photos and videos of their legalized cruelty. Wolf Patrol monitors these pages, reporting any violations to the appropriate state wildlife agency, but what we’ve discovered in our conversations with multiple conservation officers in different states is that most of the cruelty is perfectly legal, as most states categorize coyotes as a non-game animal.
Wisconsin is just one of many states allowing hound hunters as well as any hunting group, to competitively hunt coyotes in what are known as “coyote contests.” Often held in rural bars, these killing contests offer cash and prizes for the most, heaviest and often smallest coyote killed. When the contestants have gone home, many of those animals killed are simply disposed of because of damage done to the fur by dogs and bullets.
Coyote hunting with hounds isn’t hunting, it’s legalized dog-fighting. Unable to escape from pursuing hounds up a tree like bears, bobcats or raccoons, many coyotes spend their final tired moments being physically torn apart by dogs as their owners offer encouragement.
Please contact your state wildlife department, natural resources board or wildlife commission and let them know that hunting coyotes with hounds needs to regulated with a season, bag limit, tags and quotas like other legal hunting. Otherwise your state will continue to allow what can only be called legalized dog-fighting.
If you would like to start your own Wolf Patrol chapter to investigate and monitor coyote hunting with hounds in your own state, please contact us and we will help you get started!
Despite the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ (WDNR) issued public statements in December 2020, stating that no wolf hunt would be held in the state until an inclusive process took place, and a new management plan was written, the Natural Resources Board is now considering skipping those steps.
After anti-wolf state legislators held a one-sided public meeting to hear testimony from mostly bear hunters about the “need” for an immediate wolf hunt, before conservation organizations succeed in legal efforts to block a hunt in November 2021, the Natural Resources Board is holding a special meeting on January 22, 2021 to consider their requests.
Wolf Patrol encourages our supporters to register to attend the meeting via Zoom, as well as provide written comments and public testimony. Links to register are included below!
If the Natural Resources Board decides to serve only the interests of those who desire to kill wolves in Wisconsin, and not the overwhelming citizenry who are opposed to hunting, trapping and hounding of wolves, then Wolf Patrol will again take action and document and witness the killing that could begin as soon as February 2021.
Here are some resources from the Timber Wolf Alliance if you need help preparing your written testimony or public comments for this Friday’s meeting. Remember, you must register to speak or provide written comments by Thursday, January 21, 2021!
LINK TO NATURAL RESOURCES BOARD AGENDA & PUBLIC COMMENT INFO
by Adrian Wydeven, Chair of the Advisory Council for the Timber Wolf Alliance
Recently the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a rule to return gray wolf management authority to the states and tribes in most of the Lower 48 states including Wisconsin. The rule will be effective on January 4, 2021. With a healthy wolf population in Wisconsin (at least 1,034 wolves), Michigan (~700 wolves) and Minnesota (~2,700 wolves), it is appropriate that management authority returns to states and tribes in this region. While the Timber Wolf Alliance congratulates the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), and tribal conservation departments on the recovery of the gray wolf population in Wisconsin, we are concerned about efforts to initiate a rushed wolf harvest in early January 2021.
Recently, members of the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board and a state legislator have suggested that the WDNR should hold a state hunting and trapping season in January and February 2021. The Timber Wolf Alliance strongly recommends against rushing into a harvest.
In 2012, the Wisconsin legislature established a public wolf hunting and trapping season, which requires the WDNR to hold a season every year, if wolves are not listed as threatened or endangered. According to state law the wolf season starts on the first Saturday of November and ends at the end of February, or earlier if the harvest quota were met earlier.
To conduct a harvest, several steps need to be taken, including (1) establishing a committee to determine harvest quotas, (2) obtaining public and Wisconsin Natural Resource Board approval for harvest quotas, (3) providing a period for hunters and trappers to apply for permits, (4) selecting applicants who will receive harvest permits, (5) getting tags and approvals to successful applicants, and then (6) starting the season and carefully monitoring the harvest. Similar harvest preparation for bears or antlerless deer takes many months.
Furthermore, in the past, most of the Wisconsin wolf harvest was completed by early winter. Harvests in January and February occur during the wolf breeding season, and have the potential to disrupt breeding activity, precipitate pack dissolution, and increase negative effects a harvest could have on the wolf population. The hunting of wolves in winter would be open to use of hounds throughout wolf range, a method only allowed after the state firearm deer season. These mid-winter disruptions to wolf behavior might also disrupt the ability of wolf trackers to obtain reasonable counts of wolves.
Rushing into a harvest season does not demonstrate stewardship of this public trust resource. Instead it will undoubtedly stoke the fires of controversy, putting the species back in the political spotlight and likely resulting in a lose-lose scenario for all involved. Such tactics have not worked to date as the status of the wolf has been fought over for two decades. Some organizations have already indicated that they intend to challenge the delisting attempt, and rushing into a wolf harvest mere days after wolves are delisted will likely garner support for such causes.
The Timber Wolf Alliance does not oppose the public hunting and trapping of wolves. Rather we urge the use of sound biological and social science in a transparent, representative process for setting harvest seasons and quotas. These quotas and seasons should ensure sustainable harvests that minimize disruption of wolf packs, maintain the ecological benefits of wolves, are sensitive to cultural concerns of Native Americans, and receive broad public support. Rushing into a wolf harvest without following the careful steps we follow for deer, bears and other game species is poor wildlife governance.
LETTER FROM ANTI-WOLF LEGISLATORS TO WISCONSIN’S NATURAL RESOURCES BOARD:
On November 19, 2020, the Humane Society of the United States sent a letter to Wisconsin’s Gov. Tony Evers, the Chair of the Natural Resources Board, and Department of Natural Resources officials, stating that any attempt to begin a wolf hunt in early 2021 would be scientifically unsound and illegal.
Footnotes can be found on the HSUS link to the letter:
Dear Secretary Cole and DR. Prehn:
On behalf of the Humane Society of the United States, I am writing to urge the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (“DNR,” or “Department”) not to hold a wolf hunt in January and February of 2021, as it would be entirely unlawful. The DNR is already in violation of state law due, in part due to its failure to reconcile its wolf hunting regulations with state statute. The DNR must revise its regulations to come into compliance with statute prior to establishing or implementing any wolf hunt, and it may not legally establish a season that begins in January or February.
I. DNR Regulations Conflict with Statute
Before implementing any wolf season, the DNR must amend its regulations to comply with the wolf season dates mandated by Wis. Stat. § 29.185(5).
The DNR’s current rule governing its implementation of a wolf hunting season is EmR1210—an emergency rule put in place in 2012 pursuant to the Legislature’s directive in 2011 Wisconsin Act 169. Although the DNR began the process of promulgating a permanent rule to replace EmR1210, as it was legally required to do, the DNR never completed that process, and EmR1210 is still in effect.
EmR1210, among other things, sets the open season for wolf hunting and trapping as beginning on October 15 of any given year in which a wolf season is legal. This provision complied with law at the time EmR1210 was promulgated, as 2011 Wisconsin Act 169 § 6, creating Wis. Stat. § 29.185, mandated October 15 as the start date for wolf season. However, in 2016, the Legislature amended § 29.185 to replace “October 15th” with “the first Saturday in November.” But the DNR, unlawfully, never amended its regulation to align with the revised statute.
The DNR has maintained this legally-defective emergency regulation for more than four years. The Department has additionally violated the law by failing to reveal this legal conflict to the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules (“JCRAR”). Statute requires that the DNR submit a report to the JCRAR by March 31st of every odd year identifying rules that, among other defects, “are duplicative of, superseded by, or in conflict with . . . a state statute.” That report must also include what, if anything, the DNR intends to do to remedy that conflict, or why it intends to take no action.
In its first and only such report, filed in 2019, the DNR illegally failed to list either EmR1210 or Wis. Admin. Code NR § 10.01(3)(j), despite the fact that those regulations were superseded by and were in conflict with a state statute, Wis. Stat. § 29.185(5). The legal requirement to identify such unlawful regulations contains no exception for emergency rules, nor does it contain any exception for regulations that were superseded by statute or were otherwise in conflict with statute prior to when this reporting requirement became effective.
The Department is already in violation of the law, and must not double down on that violation. As the DNR’s current regulation governing its wolf hunting season is plainly in conflict with statute, to hold a season pursuant to that regulation without first amending it to come into compliance with the statute would be unlawful.
II. A Wolf Season Beginning in January or February Would Be Unlawful and Undermine the DNR’s Ability to Manage Wolves
To establish a wolf hunt beginning in January or February would directly conflict with statute, and constitute a second legal violation independent of the regulatory conflict identified in Section I, above.
2011 Wisconsin Act 169, as amended, states in unambiguous terms: “The department shall establish a single annual open season for both hunting and trapping wolves that begins on the first Saturday in November of each year and ends on the last day of February of the following year.” If The DNR were to put into place an early 2021 wolf hunt, it would effectively be establishing a season, and to establish a season that begins any day other than the first Saturday in November would be beyond the DNR’s authority and directly conflict with this statutory language.
To the extent that any uncertainty exists as to whether a hunting season must strictly conform to the season dates set out by statute, it must be resolved in favor of strict adherence to the explicit language of the statute. The Wisconsin Legislature directs courts to “narrowly construe imprecise delegations of power to administrative agencies,” limiting them to only the “explicit authority” granted by statute. Here, the DNR has only been delegated the explicit authority to establish a hunting season beginning in November.
Therefore, if the DNR elects to proceed with a wolf season at the first available opportunity, it has no choice but to wait until the first Saturday in November of 2021. It has no discretion to establish a season beginning any other date, nor does it have any discretion to establish more than one season in a given year.
On October 29, 2020 the Wisconsin Legislative Council issued a memorandum regarding “Steps to Implement a State Wolf Hunt.” The Legislative Council’s analysis does not address, let alone refute, the legal deficiencies identified above. The purpose of this memorandum was to identify what steps the DNR would need to take in order to implement an otherwise lawful wolf hunt—not to assess the legality of opening a wolf hunt in January or February.
The memorandum assumed, for the purpose of the question posed, that the statute would be interpreted to require the DNR to hold a wolf hunt upon federal delisting between the first Saturday in November and the last day in February. It is important to note that this memorandum did not decide the question of whether the statute prohibits the DNR from establishing such a season. Additionally, while the memorandum noted the amendment of Wis. Stat. § 29.185 in 2016, it did not address the fact that this statutory amendment created a conflict with EmR1210, or the fact that a hunt managed under a superseded and unlawful regulation would be illegal. Similarly, the Legislative Council’s November 2020 Issue Brief on “Wolf Delisting and Harvest Season” did not address these legal pitfalls.
In addition to being a clear violation of statute, a wolf season held in January and February would be unwise and would undermine the DNR’s credibility, as it would undercut the Department’s ability to properly manage and monitor its wolf population. When the Legislature passed 2011 Wisconsin Act 169, there was significant debate over whether to allow any hunting of wolves in January and February, due to concerns about wolf breeding season and the DNR’s inability to get an accurate late winter count during a wolf hunt. Ultimately, the law allows (in an otherwise lawful season) for a season to continue through those months. However, the Legislature never contemplated that a hunt would be held for only those months.
Several individuals, including one of the DNR’s own wolf management experts and a census wolf tracker, opposed allowing any January or February hunt. At the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment’s public hearing on 2011 SB 411, which would ultimately become 2011 Wisconsin Act 169, former DNR wildlife biologist and wolf management expert Richard Thiel testified. Mr. Thiel also testified at the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources’ public hearing on 2011 AB 502, the Assembly version of the bill that would become 2011 Wisconsin Act 169.20
According to his testimony, Mr. Thiel is a retired wildlife biologist who worked for DNR for 34 years, created and managed the department’s wolf recovery program, ran that program between 1980 and 1989, managed wolf monitoring activities within the central forest region of the state (Zone 2) from 1995 to 2011, co-drafted the Wisconsin Wolf Management Plan, and authored numerous professional articles and books on Wisconsin’s wolves. Mr. Thiel testified that he supported a responsible public wolf hunt, but identified several “shortcomings” of both bills that would make the DNR vulnerable to legal challenges. The first such shortcoming was “the timing of a harvest for wolves that includes all of the breeding season, January and February,” and the first full quarter of the pregnancy of bred female wolves.
His primary concern with this timing was that a hunt in January and February:
“coincides precisely with the DNR’s annual census period for wolves. These surveys are crucial, they are crucial to gauge the future harvest levels and per the federal Endangered Species Act they are required for a full five years following federal delisting.”
Mr. Thiel noted that allowing a January and February hunt would interfere with DNR’s ability to “professionally manage this state’s wolf population,” as a January and February hunt “would knowingly interfere with [DNR’s] best tool in measuring the size of that population being so managed.” He concluded by stating simply that “this season length is necessarily setting up the DNR for failure and it is certain to draw a lawsuit.”
Others opposed a January and February hunt for the same reasons. For example, Representative Louis Molepske stated at the Assembly hearing that he had a constituent from his district “who now is part of this wolf management team and he strongly encourages the season to end on December 31st,” as this would “ensure for the annual winter census to occur,” and “this overlap going through February could be a challenge.”
Additionally, professional naturalist and volunteer wolf tracker Cindy Mueller testified at the Senate hearing. According to her testimony, Ms. Mueller had been a professional naturalist in Wisconsin for more than 23 years, including 11 years working for the DNR at High Cliff State Park, and for more than 20 years had been a “citizen volunteer” contributing thousands of hours to the wolf recovery program, including as a population census tracker. Ms. Mueller disagreed with extending the season through January and February, stating that the season “does fall right within the prime breeding season of January and February and early March” and, as the DNR has relied largely on volunteers to do the winter tracking census surveys, “to do the surveys right in the middle of wolves being pushed and moved around would be very counterproductive.”
The Legislature understandably never discussed the implications of a hunt to be carried out only in January and February, as such a biologically unsound proposal was not—and would never be— proposed. But the Legislature was clear in its statutory directive that any lawful season must begin in the fall. If the DNR were to establish a wolf season beginning in January or February, this would directly violate the statute’s unambiguous language that any wolf season must start in November, and undermine the DNR’s credibility as an agency able to consistently or responsibly monitor and manage its wolf population, especially during the sensitive period following federal Endangered Species Act delisting.
III. DNR Must Amend the Wisconsin Wolf Management Plan Prior to Holding a Season
In addition to amending its wolf hunt regulation prior to opening a wolf hunting and trapping season, so too must the Department update its decades-old management plan. To hold a season based on a plan with scientifically disproven management and population monitoring systems would be scientifically and legally unsupportable.
The Wisconsin Wolf Management Plan was published in 1999 and contains a 2006 and 2007 addendum. The Plan was only intended to guide wolf management for 10 to 15 years, yet the DNR is still utilizing it more than 20 years later to make its management decisions, including setting quotas for a wolf season. For the DNR to set a wolf hunt quota based on the current Wisconsin Wolf Management Plan would be unjustifiable based on the testimony and expertise of the DNR’s own wolf managers and staff, in addition to the concerns of the legislators who created 2011 Wisconsin Statute 169.
A. The Wolf Management Plan Contains an Unsupportable Management Goal
The first glaring problem is the fact that the Wisconsin Wolf Management Plan directs the Department to manage wolves with the goal of bringing the Wisconsin wolf population down to 350 individuals. As discussed at both legislative hearings, the controversial 350 management goal was set based on scientific assumptions that have since been entirely disproven.
Richard Thiel, in addition to warning of the DNR’s legal vulnerability should it utilize a January and February hunt, also warned of the Department’s legal vulnerability were it to continue to utilize a management goal of 350. At the Senate hearing, Mr. Thiel stated that to suggest shooting wolves down to 350 based on the current population size “is ludicrous.” He stated, as a co-author of the Wisconsin Wolf Management Plan, that the Plan was based on old data and “needs to be revised.”
He explained in detail how habitat was modeled when the Plan was created and how wolf distribution and colonization had changed over time, invalidating that model. While Mr. Thiel believed that wolves should be managed by “taking some wolves,” he stated that “at this point in time 350 is unreasonable.” In his testimony at the Assembly hearing, Mr. Thiel stated that he was “very uncomfortable” with the discussions of bringing the wolf population down to 350, and was very familiar with how that goal was set “because I co-wrote it, and it is based on information that is 20 years old.”
He explained that, with 800 wolves and counting, “to promote pushing the population back to 350 is unrealistic” in the “political sense,” and that the State should “beware of lawsuits.” Mr. Thiel warned of the state’s vulnerability to lawsuits, noting that the wolf hunt “has to be done with reason,” and urging the Legislature to let the DNR set population goals and “let them dodge these bullets,” rather than have the Legislature set the management goal itself, as lawsuits in state and federal courts would be coming. He noted that wildlife population goals change as counting becomes more accurate and efficient, and that managing wolves down to 350 “is just not reasonable at this point in time.”
At the Assembly hearing, Representative Chris Danou questioned the Department’s decision to manage to the goal of 350. He explained that the 350 number was based primarily on a particular study’s assumptions about the relationship between wolf distribution and road density that was “not being proven that accurate.” He also explained that as the wolves expanded their range, biologists saw wolves in new areas that the original study serving as the basis for the 350 management goal did not anticipate.
Tim Van Deelan testified at both legislative hearings in favor of the companion bills. According to his testimony, Professor Van Deelan was a certified wildlife biologist and professor of wildlife ecology specializing in “harvest management” (determining sustainable offtake) who “consulted, served, and collaborated over the years” with the DNR, the Natural Resources Board, and several hunting groups, co-authored the Wisconsin Wolf Management Plan, and served on the Wolf Advisory Committee for approximately 10 years.
Prof. Van Deelan advised the Legislature and the DNR “to not tie [the 350 goal] too closely to a wolf hunt,” as to do so would “paint a great big red target on there in terms of vulnerability for people who want to challenge it on the basis of sustainability.” He explained that scientists’ understanding of how the wolf population has grown since the 350 number was posited had changed, and that at time of the 2012 hearing the 350 was “about a 20 year old number.” He advised against attempting to achieve the 350 wolf goal which was, at that point in time, “questionable.”
Representative Danou reiterated that the information serving as the basis for the 350 number was “essentially 20 year old data,” and that “it’s been very clear” since then “that wolves can obviously colonize and live in areas with greater road densities than they expected.”
Prof. Van Deelan explained:
“The 350 number was derived when we thought the carrying capacity for wolves in Wisconsin was dramatically lower than it’s turning out to be, and so if you set 350 as a goal and then choose to manage by setting quotas that would get to that number, pretty elementary harvest management theory would suggest that you run the risk of destabilizing the population.“
Prof. Van Deelan explained that he had been calculating carrying capacity of wolves for the DNR for 12 years, and that the carrying capacity for wolves in Wisconsin is “dramatically higher” than previously understood. Therefore, Prof. Van Deelan opined, based on basic wildlife management science, using 350 as a goal makes the DNR legally “vulnerable” to those who are looking at sustainability.
The Wisconsin Wolf Management Plan presents a map of primary and secondary wolf habitat in the state, noting that the remainder of the state “is designated as unsuitable, with less than 10% chance of supporting a wolf pack” based on a 1995 study. As multiple legislators and wolf experts discussed at the legislative hearings, wolves are indeed now occupying much of the supposedly “unsuitable” habitat. The Plan set a management goal of 350 wolves based on its assumption that “500 wolves occurring on about 6000 mi of suitable habitat seemed to be a reasonable estimate of the potential carrying capacity of wolves in Wisconsin.”
In contrast, the DNR’s 2020 Wisconsin Gray Wolf Monitoring Report included a minimum population count of more than 1,000 wolves, with contiguous wolf pack range estimated at 23,313 mi. To set a wolf hunt quota under the 1999 Management Plan—when the current population is estimated to be more than double what the Plan assumed was possible, and when wolf range is nearly four times what the Plan assumed was possible—would be entirely arbitrary and capricious.
The 2006 and 2007 addendum to the Plan stated that the Wolf Advisory Committee reviewed the management goals and “generally agreed” that those goals “continued to be reasonable” at that time, noting that “[c]arrying capacity assessments continued to suggest a potential biological capacity for about 500 wolves.” But even at that time the wolf population was estimated to be in the 500s, in stark contrast to the DNR’s current estimates.
Kurt Thiede, the Lands Division Administrator for the DNR, responsible for the Department’s endangered resources and wildlife management programs, testified on behalf of the Department at both the Assembly and Senate hearings. At the Senate hearing, Mr. Thiede testified that, until the Plan “would change through a new process,” 350 is the number that the DNR would necessarily be using to manage wolves, as it was bound by the Plan. In other words, he made clear that the DNR’s wolf quotas would be inevitably tied to the 350 management goal until the Plan was revised.
However “ludicrous” and “unreasonable” the prospect of utilizing the 1999 Plan was in 2012, it is even more so now. However big a “red target” was on the Department in 2012, that target has only grown bigger and redder.
B. The Wolf Management Plan Is Based on Outdated and Inaccurate Monitoring Methods
The second glaring problem with setting a 2021 wolf season under the current Wolf Management Plan is that the Plan is based on a method of counting wolves that the DNR admits is no longer valid. Therefore, the DNR must amend the Wisconsin Wolf Management Plan to replace the methods for monitoring the wolf population, and must adjust any management goals accordingly.
Under the Plan, “[m]anagement activities for Wisconsin’s wolf population shall be based on a late winter count.” The Plan laid out how this count should be done, including the late winter volunteer census surveys initiated in 1995. However, the Plan was only intended to be utilized for 10 to 15 years, and recognized that, as the wolf population grew, monitoring methods would need to expand and change. The Plan identified future research that would be needed upon state and federal delisting on order to “safeguard the wolf population and develop/evaluate future wolf management practices.” These needs included “[d]evelopment of reliable, but more economical wolf census techniques to accurately document numbers and distribution.” Indeed, the way that wolves in Wisconsin are counted has stirred much debate at Wolf Advisory Committee meetings.
The DNR recently decided to move away from the late winter count mandated by the Plan and toward a different method for estimating Wisconsin’s wolf population, recognizing that the minimum late winter counts conducted since 1979 are unsupportable and inaccurate with a wolf population the size of Wisconsin’s. Keith Warnke, Administrator for the DNR’s Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Division, recently presented on this change in methodology at a Natural Resources Board meeting.
Mr. Warnke stated that “we’re moving now to a new method for estimating the wolf population,” as the DNR “used a minimum count model in previous years since 1979,” but was “now moving to an occupancy and abundance model” similar to the methods being used in Montana and Idaho. He stated that the reason for moving to this new method is that it is “reliable and more effective and much more cost efficient” than the minimum population estimate method. He explained that the old method of counting wolves is “very possible when the population is small, but it’s really not intended for larger populations of wolves” like the population that currently exists. The DNR was “confident that moving to this new model we will have better more reliable data collected in a more efficient manner.”
The Department has decided to utilize a new method for monitoring wolf populations that is outside of what the Management Plan anticipates and has acknowledged that the old method of counting wolves is currently unreliable and inaccurate at this point in time. The Department must therefore revise the Plan to account for its new methodology prior to setting a wolf quota. Any quota currently set based on minimum late winter counts would be arbitrary and capricious as based on methods that the DNR itself has admitted are currently inaccurate. And any quota currently set based on the new occupancy and abundance model—without first amending the Plan—would be inconsistent with the Plan.
Lastly, if the DNR intends to move forward with its new methodology, which will necessarily create population numbers higher than its old methodology, it must recalibrate its management goals accordingly.
As Mr. Warnke explained to the Natural Resources Board, the DNR would “expect that the minimum population count—the old model—would be less than the occupancy abundance estimate, because that old model was a minimum count. The new model is a population estimate,” and “certainly an entire population estimate is going to be more than just a minimum count.” The Wisconsin Wolf Management Plan’s management goal of 350 was based on the methodology of the minimum count, which would necessarily result in a lower wolf population.
If the DNR is to change its methodology to one that would necessarily result in a higher wolf population, it must adjust its management goal proportionally up to account for this change. Federal courts have recognized the necessity of this same type of “recalibration” with respect to state plans for hunting of grizzly bears recently delisted under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The Wisconsin DNR may not legally establish an early 2021 wolf hunt. To do so would violate the clear and unambiguous language of 2011 Wisconsin Act 169, as amended, which requires any lawful wolf season to begin in November. The DNR’s regulation governing its wolf season, EmR1210, also conflicts with the language of the statute, and to implement a wolf hunt under the auspices of an unlawful regulation would be illegal. The Department must also amend the Wisconsin Wolf Management Plan prior to initiating a hunt. Any quota set pursuant to that Plan would be legally unsupportable, as the DNR’s own experts have testified that the Plan’s management goals are based on disproved science and unreliable and inaccurate population monitoring methods.
We urge the Wisconsin DNR not to proceed with an unlawful January and February wolf season. Rushing to open a hunt will expose the DNR to unnecessary legal liability and undermine both its credibility and the legitimacy of its efforts to monitor and manage Wisconsin’s wolf population in accordance with sound science. We look forward to your response to this letter and would welcome an opportunity to discuss these concerns further.
Laura Friend Smythe Staff Attorney, Animal Protection Litigation The Humane Society of the United States 1255 23rd Street NW, Suite 450 Washington, DC 20037 firstname.lastname@example.org (202) 676-2331
Governor Tony Evers Governor of Wisconsin Governor@wisconsin.gov
On October 29th, 2020 federal officials announced the latest delisting of gray wolves from endangered and threatened wildlife protections, once again placing wolves under state, not federal management in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota. The announcement came after years of political pressure from state legislators sympathetic to the gun and trophy hunting lobby in Wisconsin and other states.
Wolves in the Great Lakes came back under federal protection in December 2014, after having been returned to state management in 2012. Wisconsin conducted three recreational wolf seasons in 2012-14. In the three years wolves were trapped, shot or hunted with dogs, over 500 wolves were legally killed by licensed hunters in Wisconsin.
The recent delisting by U.S. Fish & Wildlife means that barring any legal action (which is highly anticipated) wolves can once again be legally hunted in Wisconsin. In recent years, a mandatory recreational wolf hunt was legislated by the state, stating that anytime wolves are under state management, the state’s Department of Natural Resources must facilitate a public wolf hunt, including with the use of hounds.
Despite Wisconsin’s wolf hunt law stating that any such hunt must begin in November, it has been reported that some state legislators as well as members of the Natural Resources Board are exploring ways to conduct a wolf hunt the moment federal protections are legally lifted on January 4, 2021.
Some of Wisconsin’s lawmakers don’t even want to wait until the latest gray wolf delisting becomes law in January 2021, they would like to see a return to the recreational killing of wolves starting immediately. Just one day after the federal decision to delist was publicized, Republican state representative Rob Stafsholt (since elected to the state senate representing northwestern Wisconsin) responded, stating:
“I have been working on wolf issues in Wisconsin for close to 20 years, long before I was in the Legislature. The most frustrating thing regarding our wolf population was watching as people from as far away as Florida thought they knew how to manage Wisconsin’s wolves better than our own biologists, farmers, and sportsmen and women. I am thrilled to see the role of managing our wolf population is now back in Wisconsin’s hands. Therefore, I am calling on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to implement a 2020 harvest season for wolves in Wisconsin.”
Stafsholt is a former member of the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, which has long pushed for delisting as well as a member and supporter of other proponents of wolf hunting such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, Safari Club International, U.S. Sportsman’s Alliance and the National Rifle Association.
On November 2, 2020 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Wisconsin’s DNR wildlife staff would meet very soon with the agency’s legal team and the DNR Secretary’s Office to determine the next steps for wolf management in the state, including a hunting season.
According to the DNR’s Wolf hunting webpage,
“All wolf management, including hunting, will be conducted in a transparent and deliberative process, in which public and tribal participation will be encouraged…Until delisting takes effect, it remains unlawful to shoot a wolf unless there is an immediate threat to human safety. Following the delisting effective date, the DNR may implement all abatement measures as applicable to each situation, which may include lethal control.”
Wisconsin also needs to update it’s 20 year-old wolf management plan which it has promised will include a diversity of conservation groups, tribal representatives, farmers and wolf advocates to help guide state management. In the past, then DNR Director Cathy Stepp was responsible for removing members of the Wolf Advisory Committee opposed to recreational wolf hunting.
Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board (NRB) sets policy for the Department of Natural Resources and according to its website exercises authority and responsibility in accordance with state laws. Next month’s meeting of the NRB is not for the purpose of discussing Wisconsin’s legal obligation to conduct a wolf hunt, but it will be the last time the board meets before the federal delisting of wolves becomes law again on January 4th, 2021.
Here’s the link to the agenda for the 12/09/20 NRB meeting:
Since the COVID pandemic, NRB meetings are conducted remotely and still available for live viewing and prepared testimony by members of the public. If you’d like to see what a Wisconsin NRB meeting looks like, here’s the link to past 2020 meetings:
This is the opportunity for wolf advocates and opponents of Wisconsin’s hound hunt for wolves to respectfully remind Natural Resources Board members that responsible state management begins with an updated wolf management plan and equal representation on any wolf advisory committees. Current committee members have supported a statewide wolf population of just 350 animals, which was the initial goal during wolf recovery efforts in the 1980’s.
The current estimated population of wolves in Wisconsin according to the DNR is just over 1,200 animals which is believed by some wolf biologists to indicate that the predators have reached a stable and healthy population in available habitat.
Citizens have until December 2, 2020 to register to give three minutes of testimony at the December 9th, NRB meeting via Zoom. This is also the deadline for providing written testimony or handouts to NRB members for the meeting.
Email or call the Board Liaison Office now to register to speak on 12/09/20:
Laurie.Ross@wisconsin.gov or 608-267-7420
Please join Wolf Patrol on December 9th and help us remind state wildlife officials that the responsibility of managing Wisconsin’s wolves deserves equal representation and decisions based on sound science, not political pressure from elected officials and trophy hunting lobbyists.
Every year beginning in October, Wisconsin is host to almost a hundred different wildlife killing contests. Last week, the first raccoon killing contests of the season took place at the Jackson Clinic bar in Mauston, at Jumpers Bar in Little Chicago and at Elk Lake Tavern in Eau Claire.
Many more killing contests will follow including Moondog Madness, Wisconsin’s largest coyote killing contest which takes place over three weekends in winter.
This year, the Wisconsin Conservation Congress’ Legislative Advisory Committee will hold its annual meeting on November 4, 2020. On the agenda are three separate citizen’s resolutions to end wildlife killing contests.
Here is the mission statement of the Advisory Committee:
“The mission of the Legislative Committee of the Conservation Congress is to advise the Department of Natural Resources and the Natural Resources Board of the official positions of the Congress on legislative issues and to testify to such at legislative hearings and meetings as needed; to review resolutions and legislation in order to advise and recommend positions to the members and leadership of the congress; and to work with the department of natural resources in the development and implementation of wildlife, habitat and conservation legislation and administrative rules.”
WCC Voting has already moved forward these three resolutions calling for an end to killing contests, now it’s time to hear what the Advisory Committee thinks of the resolutions. On November 4, 2020 the Wisconsin Conservation Congress Legislative Advisory Committee will hold its meeting online and the public is encouraged to register to view the meeting via Zoom.
As we enter the fourth and final week of the hound hunt for bear in Wisconsin, deadly clashes between federally protected gray wolves and bear hunting hounds continue on a weekly basis. On October 3rd, 2020 bear hunters operating baits in Forest County had wolves attack two of their hounds in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. These same bear hunters had reported to Wolf Patrol that wolves were visiting their bait sites in the area.
On October 4, 2020 a hound hunter operating just south of two Wolf Caution Areas in Marinette County, came upon one of his hounds surrounded by wolves after he had released it from one of his bear bait sites. The hunter was able to retrieve his dog, but reported that the pursuing wolves followed him all the way back to his truck. Both of these recent incidents occurred in areas where bear hunters had been baiting bears since June 2020.
On October 7, 2020 wolves killed a bear hound being run off of bear baits in Langlade County. This latest depredation occurred in area heavily baited for bear, and where two bear hounds were killed in 2016 & 2017.
To date, there have been 23 separate clashes between gray wolves and bear hunting hounds in Wisconsin since bear hound training & baiting season began in July. Baiting is allowed from April, but most depredations on hounds occur during the two-month summer training season, with kill season ending on October 13, 2020.
A total of 25 bear hounds have been killed and seven injured by wolves this year. Despite the fact that many wolf depredations on bear hounds occur in WDNR Wolf Caution Areas, where bear hunters were already aware of the threat to their dogs, hound hunters are still compensated up to $2,500.00 for injuries or death caused by wolves.
Wisconsin’s bear hunters are unwilling to accept responsibility for their own actions that contribute to wolf depredations on bear hounds. In every depredation incident that Wolf Patrol has investigated over the last five years, we have found active bear baiting occurring near depredation sites.
In 2020, more bear hunters reported wolves visiting their bear bait sites than in any year previous, evidence that Wisconsin’s unlimited and unregulated bear baiting practices are contributing to not only bears, but wolves becoming conditioned to feeding from bear baits.
No license in required to bait bears in Wisconsin and bear hunters can dump up to 10 gallons of bait and/or grease at a time into as many baits as they care to create on our mostly public lands. Neither the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) or the U.S. Forest Service know how many bear baits there are in Wisconsin because registration of bait sites is not required, even on national forests or other public lands.
It’s time to end bear baiting, especially in areas where it’s already caused depredations on bear hounds and other dogs. The problem in Wisconsin isn’t too many wolves, it’s too many unregistered bear baits. Join Wolf Patrol in calling for an end to bear baiting in our national forests and other public lands in Wisconsin!