Will Wisconsin's animal cruelty law affect a wolf hunt?

Madison — Wisconsin may well create a wolf season this year, but if that season does open as planned Oct. 15, state sportsmen can thank the Kuenzi brothers for adding a substantial hurdle that must yet be overcome, based on comments from Midwest Environmental Advocates last week.

The seven-member Natural Resources Board did unanimously approve a “scoping statement” at its May 23 meeting that will allow the process to create a wolf season to continue, but not before Jodi Habush Sinvkin, of Milwaukee, representing Midwest Environmental Advocates, indirectly described how her group could challenge the trapping of wolves with cable restraints and the hunting of wolves with hounds, based on a court ruling from the Kuenzi brothers’ court case.

Remember the Kuenzis? In the winter of 2009, Rory and Robby Kuenzi and Nicholas Hermes ran down deer with snowmobiles in Waupaca County. They also tied deer to trees and tortured them.

Sinvkin told NRB members that a state appellate ruling in the Kuenzi case states that animal cruelty laws extend to wild animals.

She said the Kuenzi brothers and Hermes argued that they were not guilty of animal cruelty charges because that state law applies only to domestic animals, not wild animals.

“The court disagreed. The court clearly reconciled that tension,” said Sinvkin.

The Kuenzis appealed that decision to the Wisconsin State Supreme Court, but the high court declined to hear the case.

Sinvkin told NRB members that the state’s animal cruelty laws should also prevent the board from approving a season framework that would allow foot-hold traps. She also said the NRB should not allow hunting of wolves at night, the use of bait or electronic calls, nor allow wolf hunting on state and federal lands.

“These provisions, these unpopular and untested methods, are viewed as a departure from traditional hunting.” Sinvkin said wolf hunting should be limited to areas of private land with livestock damage.

Sportsmen are likely to hear more on Sinvkin’s views between now and the NRB’s July  17 at a meeting in Stevens Point. There will be four public meetings on the wolf season before that date, not including stakeholder group meetings that may also be attended by the public. The meetings will be in Spooner, Rhinelander, Black River Falls and Fond du Lac. The  “stakeholder” and “science committee” meetings will be in Wausau. The

NRB will then make its final ruling on a wolf season at the July 17 meeting in  Stevens Point.

Discussion

NRB member Bill Bruin asked Sinvkin if she were “queen for a day,” would she authorize a wolf season.

“It would be important for folks who experiencing depredation on their land. The DNR could use harvest zones and quotas to focus hunting on areas experiencing depredation. By focusing hunt on areas not experiencing depredation, going to exacerbate livestock problems, you’re going to drive those wolves off public lands to areas where there is an interface between livestock and wolves,” said Sinvkin.

NRB member Greg Kazmierski asked Sinvkin if Midwest Environmental Advocates suggests there should be no type of hunting with dogs.

“Are you saying that hunting any species with dogs should not be allowed? Rabbits, birds? Is that what you’re advocating?”

“Wolves will stand their ground. They can’t climb up trees, they can’t fly away. Dogs run ahead of humans, a significant distance from their owners, increasing the probability of confrontation. This is not value-based, these are ecological realities of species coming in contact with one another. When wolves and dogs mix, there are going to be few standing. It will result in fatalities, euthanasia,” she said.

Earlier Sinvkin had said that no other state or country in the world allows the hunting of wolves with dogs. Kazmierski corrected Sinvkin by pointing out that three Canadian provinces do allow such hunting. He said it’s also “big in Europe.”

Dave Clausen, NRB chair, said the European hunting might be with coursing hounds, or sight-hunting hounds, not trailing hounds as would be the case in Wisconsin.

“You’re looking at a wolf-dog fight. That would have some very negative connotations. I think we should be very careful about allowing (this),” said Clausen.

Hunters Rights Coalition spokesman Bob Welch said there would be very little hound hunting for wolves the first year because not many hunters will have had a chance to train their hounds to pursue wolves.

NRB member Jane Wiley said she, too, expects to see few dogs used on wolves this year, but has heard that hunters are looking into how to train their dogs.

Clausen noted that the scoping statement doesn’t address the training of dogs on wolves.

“Can training of dogs occur at any time?” he asked.

DNR Bureau of Lands director Kurt Theide said the same rules that are in place for coyotes would apply to wolf training – training would be allowed outside of the restrictions put in place by the “leash law” in northern Wisconsin.

Welch countered Sinvkin’s claim that dogs would be injured by wolves, and that wolves bayed up to dogs would be bludgeoned in the head with clubs.

“People who own dogs love their dogs. A lot of people think that if the dog doesn’t sleep on the couch with you, you don’t love your dogs. The dogs will be trained to hunt wolves, or they won’t be out hunting wolves.

When a wolf stops, the dogs stop. They won’t engage,” said Welch.

Ralph Fritsch, of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, supported the season framework for the most part, but pleaded with the board to restore coyote hunting during the nine-day gun deer season in northern Wisconsin.

“There is no longer a biological reason to restrict this coyote hunting,” said Fritsch.

Theide told the board that as the legal process proceeds in setting up the wolf season, the DNR has made some decisions – wolf applications will be made available on Aug. 1, and the application deadline will be Sept. 1. The drawing will take place in early September so that successful applicants can be notified in advance of the Oct. 15 season opener.

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