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Wisconsin resources board votes down winter wolf hunt

The Department of Natural Resources is planning to wait until November for first wolf hunt since 2014.

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Wolf supporters have filed a federal lawsuit to block the federal government from ending Endnagered Species Act protections for wolves. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

MADISON, Wis. -- The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board on Friday voted against a mid-winter wolf hunt that had been requested by Republican state lawmakers.

The board voted 4-3 against a proposal to hold a wolf hunt Feb. 10-28 with a quota of roughly 220 wolves allowed to be shot.

While a majority of the seven-member board appeared to favor a hunt, several had concerns that the proposal would fail legal challenges, especially over tribal natural resource treaty rights.

The board took the action in a video-conference special meeting called earlier in the week and pushed by supporters who say there are too many wolves in the state.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources already had announced a wolf hunt planned for November after the federal government in late October formally announced it would end Endangered Species Act protections.

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Those federal protections officially ended Jan. 4. Several Wisconsin lawmakers said the DNR is essentially required by existing state law to hold a wolf hunt as soon as possible. A state wolf management law currently on the books calls for an annual season to be held Nov. 1 to Feb. 28.

In just a few days since the meeting was called, the board received more than 1,300 comments.

Supporters of a wolf hunt, especially groups representing livestock farmers and deer hunters, said they want the hunt held as soon as possible before possible court action that might delay or cancel wolf hunting. U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany, a Republican representing Wisconsin's 7th Congressional District, also noted Friday that the new Biden administration could also move quickly to re-list wolves.

Patrick Quaintance, of Bayfield, said a winter hunting season will help reduce wolf numbers and reduce wolf predation on livestock and pets, including bear hunting hounds.

“I would recommend that we have a wolf season as soon as possible,’’ Quaintance said, noting wolves in his area are not just expanding in number, but also becoming emboldened and unafraid of people.

Medford-area dairy farmer Ryan Klussendorf said wolves have come into his farmyard and killed his cows, adding that he is “living with this nightmare daily. I’m at my wit's end. Rural Wisconsin needs this hunt now.”

But tribal officials testified Friday against hunting wolves in general and specifically against holding a hunt yet this winter with little advance public notice or input.

“The Menominee Tribe is opposed to the hunting and trapping of wolves in Wisconsin,’’ Douglas Cox, vice chairman of the tribe, said. “A wolf is of significant value to Menominee culture … to the identity of the Menominee Tribe.”

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Marvin DeFoe, of the Red Cliff Band of Ojibwe, agreed, saying there’s room for more wolves in the state.

“We view the wolf as our brother,’’ DeFoe noted. “What happens to the wolf happens to the Indian.”

Fred Clark, executive director of the Wisconsin Greenfire conservation group, said wolves have recovered enough to hold limited seasons. But he said his group opposes rushing a season through this winter.

“We can’t do this right by turning on a dime,’’ he said. “Let’s do the work and get it right.”

Other critics said the hunt should not be held during wolves’ winter mating season.

A winter survey conducted in early 2020 estimated Wisconsin has about 1,034 wolves across the northern third of the state and into the central forested counties. Wisconsin wolf hunters and trappers killed 528 wolves over three seasons between 2012 and 2014.

Wolf supporters last week filed suit in federal court to get wolves back under endangered protections, saying the big canines have not recovered in enough areas of their original range and that some states have acted overzealously in killing wolves when they were previously under state control from 2012 to 2014. A similar lawsuit in 2014 kept wolves protected until now.

The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board is an independent body that oversees and sets policy for the Department of Natural Resources. Its seven members are appointed by the governor.

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Meanwhile, the Minnesota DNR earlier this month noted it had reactivated existing rules on when wolves can be legally killed near where livestock and other domestic animals are threatened. So far, there has been no proposal for a Minnesota wolf hunting or trapping season, although one is expected during the 2021 legislative session.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, however, has said he does not support a wolf hunting season.

Related Topics: WISCONSINNORTHLAND OUTDOORS
John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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