Wolf hunt details being ironed out in Wisconsin

Madison — Timber wolf harvest applications will be available after June. That much is known as of now, but as for an application deadline, harvest quota, and number of permits?
Well, that will be worked out between now and June 1.

“None of that stuff is worked out yet,” said Kurt Thiede, DNR Division of Lands administrator. “We’re working on getting teams together. This is an aggressive timeline. We’re working with the Bureau of Licensing to answer these questions – for instance, when we can open permits. We’re also putting a timeline together for the emergency rule.”

Nothing is set in stone just yet, but Bureau of Licensing Director Diane Brookbank suggested it would work best if all wolf applications were done electronically – no paper applications.

That will speed up the process, considering that there could be a narrow window of time between when applications become available and the application deadline.

Brookbank is also aware that not all sportsmen have a computer available to them to apply online.

“It would be best to go electronic only – either point of sale or the internet. Folks without a computer would have to go to a retail outlet to apply,” she said.

The wolf bill that was signed last month by Gov. Scott Walker and spells out the basic parameters of the season. A hunting and trapping season would open Oct. 15 – short of any legal challenges – and run through Feb. 15. Hunting at night (calling) and hunting with hounds would be allowed after the gun deer season. Foot-hold traps and cable restraints would be allowed for trappers. Quotas will be set by zone, and the season will close early if the quotas are reached before the end of the season.

“That’s all established. What we still have to decide are the zones, quota levels, and permit numbers,” Thiede said.

The state wolf plan currently lists four large zones. There are questions as to whether the DNR should create smaller zones to focus harvest in particular areas, such as the elk recovery area in Sawyer and Ashland counties. A number of wildlife biologists support the idea of increased wolf harvest in the elk area, yet others vehemently disagree.

Thiede said the four larger wolf zones may be too big, but he said deer units may be too small. He said the DNR may look at county zones.

Setting quotas is another matter, as is setting the number of permits. Thiede said the DNR will make half of all tags available to the state’s six Chippewa tribes, although he acknowledged that the DNR still has to look at the Voigt court ruling to see if wolves are even listed as a species that is subject to shared harvest in the ceded territory.

When that ruling was written, the state did not have elk, so elk were not included in the “shared species list” agreed to at that time by the tribes and state.

As for quotas, Thiede said the DNR likely will start out in a conservative fashion, even though the state is operating with a management plan that calls for the wolf population to be at 350 or under.

He is aware that Montana Idaho have seen low success rates in their first two hunting seasons in the Rockies.

“How does that apply to here? They have bigger topography.  Maybe we should look more at Ontario. We have more private in-holdings than in the West, but at least we have a baseline to look to, then we can see how we can tailor it to Wisconsin. This is going to be a learning experience at first,” he said.

The DNR will have to have most of the plan worked out by mid-May. The agency has to take a “scoping statement” – basically a document that outlines the season and its particulars – to the Natural Resources Board in late May.

Brookbank said the Bureau of Licensing would be able to make wolf applications available by June 1, but the agency still has to make a decision on when to open applications. As for a deadline, she said an Aug. 1 deadline would be convenient in the respect that it’s also the deadline for fall turkey, early goose, and fisher, bobcat, and otter tags. However, Thiede and others within the agency are wondering if an Aug. 1 deadline would give sportsmen enough time to apply.

But then, if the deadline were later, would sportsmen have enough time to plan a hunt before the Oct. 15 opener?

Carcass tags will be issued in two ways – by preference drawing and by random draw. Half of the tags will go either way. The legislation allows for that. Thiede said that was decided because anyone who did not apply with preference the first year would never be able to catch up to those who did apply for preference right out of the gate.

What Brookbank and Thiede did not know at the time of this interview was whether preference applicants also would be allowed into the random draw, or if the random draw would be strictly limited to new applicants.

“What we do know is we want to give folks enough time to apply,” Thiede said. “What’s put in place for this year probably won’t be the same as next year. We want to give people enough time to apply and plan, understanding that the timeline is somewhat contracted. As soon as we have those answers, we will get them out to the public.”

Possible lawsuit?

Will the state’s wolf season, or even federal wolf delisting, be challenged in court.

Anything is possible.

“At this point, it would just be speculation as to what could happen,” Thiede said. “Anyone can file a challenge at any time. There is no time limit. I would think that anyone who would want to sue would do it this summer. First they have to file their intent to sue, then they have to bring suit within 60 days.

“From our perspective, we’re going to move forward as if there will be no challenge. We can’t wait to see if anyone is going to sue,” he said.

Fee clarification

A legislative amendment that would have cut the original wolf carcass fees in half failed in the closing days of the wolf bill. Therefore, reports that resident and nonresident licenses would be $50 and $250, respectively, were incorrect.

The license fees remain at $90.25 for residents and $499.25 for nonresidents, not including the $10 application fee.

There is a provision in the bill that allows for the issuance of duplicate licenses or permits if the original is lost; duplicates would cost $50 and $250.

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