Letter from Rep. Danou: Wolf hunting in WisconsinAs the end of session approaches, a large number of bills are working their way through the Wisconsin legislature.
By: Rep. Chris Danou , Pierce County Herald
As the end of session approaches, a large number of bills are working their way through the Wisconsin legislature. A significant bill that will impact the Wisconsin conservation community is Assembly Bill 502/Senate Bill 411 that will lead to the creation of a wolf hunting season in Wisconsin.
The eastern Timber wolf (Canis lupis) has been recently removed from the endangered species list in the upper Great Lakes region. Wolf populations in Minnesota, Wisconsin and the upper peninsula of Michigan have increased substantially since wolves reappeared in Wisconsin in 1975 after being extirpated in the late 1950’s. Currently it is estimated that there are approximately 1,000 individuals over wintering in the state, ranging over northern Wisconsin and extending as far south as the Black River State Forest.
Since delisting, Minnesota (3,000 +wolves) has moved ahead with establishing a wolf hunting season, as have some western states. When examining this issue it is important to note that wolf hunting has been controversial and it is likely that groups opposed to wolf hunting will file lawsuits in an attempt to stop wolf hunting in Wisconsin. Because the animal has just come off of the endangered species list, Wisconsin will have to demonstrate to both the federal judge likely to hear the case and the US Fish and Wildlife Service that the state population is being managed in a responsible way that will not lead to it being relisting as endangered and/or trigger federal management of Wisconsin’s wolf population
AB 502 has moved through the legislature quickly since introduction in late January of 2012. In a nutshell, the bill would allow wolf hunting to begin October 15 and continue through the end of February. The DNR would limit the number of licenses issued, similar to bear hunting. Night hunting and hunting with dogs would be allowed. Trapping of wolves would also be allowed. The DNR would be allowed to close the season once the harvest quota has been met.
As a trained Wildlife Biologist, I had and continue to have some concerns about the bill, I believe that the season starts too early, well before a wolf pelt primes up in late November. For those interested in a quality hunt, harvesting a wolf with a prime pelt would be preferable to taking an immature animal without a prime pelt. The season also goes too long into the breeding season, with the potential to disrupt breeding activities and allow the harvest of pregnant females. I am also concerned about the public safety implications of pursuing a potentially very dangerous animal at night with dogs. This is not a raccoon going up a tree, but a large dangerous predator that will turn and defend itself against dogs. Wisconsin will be the only US state to allow wolf hunting with dogs. There is no tradition of wolf hunting with dogs in the US and only one country in the world really has that tradition; Russia. There are also very few breeds of dogs capable of pursuing and effectively cornering a wolf.
Wisconsin also currently utilizes some $250,000 or more of endangered resources funds to compensate the owners of bear hunting dogs that are killed or injured by wolves. Now that the wolf is becoming a game species this practice needs to come to an end. No other group of hunters using dogs in Wisconsin is indemnified by the state for deaths or injuries to their dogs. When I am out bird hunting and my dog gets injured by another animal or obstruction, I accept that as part of the risks associated with hunting as does every other hunter utilizing dogs in Wisconsin.
I think we could have crafted a better bill than the one now before the legislature. But, one of the challenges of legislating is not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Enough changes were made to the original version, including an amendment I authored, that I was able to support passage of bill through the Natural Resources committee.
As a lifelong hunter, fisherman and conservationist, I believe strongly that if a wildlife population can be managed effectively and sustainably, sportsmen and women should have the opportunity to help in managing the population through a sustainable harvest. We need to make sure that we manage the wolf population in a way that makes sure that the timber wolf remains a vital component of Wisconsin’s remarkable wildlife heritage.