The Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association (WBHA) on Jan. 19 called for quick action on the permanent rule regarding gray wolf harvest regulations.

The WBHA represents more than 3,000 Wisconsin families that enjoy the sport of bear hunting. It also represents a large percentage of those who harvest wolves when a wolf season has been allowed to proceed, as well as a large percentage of those who have suffered depredations of livestock and pets by wolves.

WBHA believes that there is no need to change anything from what is in the current emergency rule, except for minor changes to comply with current statutes.

The association further believes that the Dane County Circuit Court was incorrect when it ruled that a season could not occur until new permanent rules were promulgated, noting that Section 21 of 2011 Act 169 clearly states “Notwithstanding section 227.24 (1) (c) and (2) of the statutes, emergency rules promulgated under this paragraph remain in effect until the date on which the permanent rules take effect.”

According to WBHA President Carl Schoettel, the statues are extremely clear that the emergency rules stay in effect until a permanent rule is put in place.

“There is absolutely no room for other interpretations,” he said. “WBHA firmly believes that there should currently be a season underway for wolves in Wisconsin. We believe the Wisconsin DNR should have challenged the Dane County ruling. We believe that the only explanation for the lack of an appeal of that decision is the clear preservationist attitude of the current leadership of the DNR.

“Refusing to move forward with a wolf harvest season is an abject dereliction of the agency’s duty to manage Wisconsin’s wildlife. It is also against the law requiring a season to be held per Stats. Section 29.185 (1m).”

Schoettel added the the association is not asking for anything new, but just asking that the law be upheld, saying that for decades the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has followed the North American Model of wildlife management — the most successful model developed in history for conserving wildlife populations.

“Under that model, it is clear that a harvest of 10-15% of the estimated population does not impact overall population of the species. Recent experience out West shows that wolf harvests of as much at 30% per annual season has had no net effect on wolf populations,” said Schoettel. “So even without attempting to manage wolves to the overwinter goal of 350, without impacting wolf numbers at all, the DNR could easily authorize a season harvest goal of 420 wolves. WBHA previously expressed this number with the DNR when they were setting the season goals back in August.”

WBHA is calling upon the Wisconsin DNR to promulgate a permanent rule that is identical to the emergency rule, except for minor changes to align the rule with statute, to immediately appeal the Dane County ruling and proceed with a late winter 2022 wolf season, and to begin following the North American Model when it comes to managing wolves, as they do for other species.

Wolf hunt history

During the hunt that was originally slated to run from Feb. 22-28, 2021 the DNR closed all wolf harvesting zones to hunting and trapping of gray wolves less than three days after the season opened with 218 wolves registered — 18 more wolves than the harvest quota which was set by the Natural Resources Board (NRB) at 200 wolves outside reservation lands.

In August, the NRB then authorized the killing of 300 wolves as part of a fall hunt. In a 5-2 vote, the state’s top natural resources panel dismissed the quota that had been proposed by the DNR, which had called for a limit of 130 wolves to be killed. The decision followed several hours of public debate by dozens of people over the scope of the hunt, with animal rights activists calling it inhumane and hunting groups seeking even higher quotas. The DNR announced in early October that the statewide quota for the fall 2021 wolf season has been set at 130 wolves — 170 fewer than approved by the NRB in August.

Unhappy with the original overall wolf harvest quota of 300 animals for this season, Wisconsin’s six Chippewa tribes announced in September they were suing the Wisconsin DNR and the NRB in the Western District Federal Court in Madison, asking the court to suspend the 2021-’22 season over that quota and other concerns detailed in a 45-page document. Following a Dane County Circuit Court’s ruling, the DNR was forced to delay its fall 2021 wolf hunt that was set to begin Nov. 6, 2021.

Against the hunt

According to a preliminary assessment of the February 2021 Wisconsin wolf hunt by Wisconsin Green Fire, a conservation-minded organization that aims to promote science-based management of Wisconsin’s natural resources, the mishandling of the February hunt has incentivized hunting opponents advocating the immediate relisting of gray wolves as a federally endangered species. The outcome of Wisconsin’s most recent wolf harvest threatens the reputation the state has established as a leader for wolf conservation for more than 60 years.

“Despite current law requiring annual wolf harvests, the DNR retains authority to establish quotas and, within statutory limits, to regulate the form, timing, and methods of harvest. The DNR should use its authority more fully to prevent the kind of unwanted outcomes experienced in February from being repeated,” the Wisconsin Green Fire assessment stated.

The report stated that there was correspondingly little reduction of wolf populations in areas of marginal habitat where livestock and pet depredations and human-wolf conflicts are most likely to occur.

“Based on currently available information and the organization’s understanding of wolf populations and behavior, there is little evidence that the February 2021 wolf hunt will significantly reduce human-wolf conflicts,” it said.