Thursday, February 2nd, 2023
Thursday, February 2nd, 2023

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Wisconsin's first modern-day wolf hunt approved by NRB

Stevens Point, Wis. — Timber wolf harvest tag applications will go on sale for $10 on Aug. 1, now that the Natural Resources Board has approved a first-year harvest quota of 201 wolves in six zones.

A total of 2,000 permits will be available to state and tribal hunters and trappers, with the final distribution to the tribes still to be determined. At least six tribal councils have asked that wolves not be harvested on those reservations, but that does not prevent individual tribal members from seeking wolves on public land outside of the reservations.

NRB members reached a unanimous decision July 17 after listing to about six hours of testimony in which protectionist groups and individuals outnumbered hunting and trapping individuals and groups.

Even before NRB members made their ruling, some conservation group members were wondering if the state’s first wolf season would even get off the ground because of potential lawsuits. That possibility became more real when it was noted that lawyer Robert Habush, of Habush, Habush and Rottier, S.C., was in the audience. Habush’s daughter, Jodi L. Habush, testified that day in opposition to the DNR recommendations and general season framework. She was listed as representing Midwest Environmental Advocates.

Jodi Habush is also a lawyer in her father’s firm, working out of their Milwaukee office. Her brief profile on the firm’s website lists one of her areas of expertise as “public interest environmental claims and public policy work.”

Wisconsin Outdoor News contacted both lawyers in the hall outside of the meeting room as they left and asked if they plan to file a legal action aimed at blocking the state’s first wolf season.

The elder Habush said, with a smile, “No comment.”

In addressing the NRB, Jodi Habush said the DNR offers no peer-reviewed scientific evidence to support its wolf quota,  nor can the agency control excess harvest.

“The DNR should be conservative on quotas; (they are) only as good as the DNR’s ability and resolve to enforce them,” she said, adding that harvest should only be allowed in areas where depredation occurs.

She noted that the DNR is in the process of updating the wolf plan from 1999, and asked that the NRB delay any season until after the plan is updated.

Habush said she’s concerned about using dogs to hunt wolves. She said hunting wolves with dogs will lead to animal fighting and death.

A number of other speakers shared Habush’s concerns, saying the NRB should drastically reduce the quotas, take into account wolves killed through depredation actions and vehicle collisions, limit harvest to secondary wolf range and depredation areas, create wolf refuges, shorten the season, and prevent any inhumane practices.

Later, as the NRB deliberated, board member Preston Cole tried to address some of those concerns by asking Bill Vander Zouwen, DNR Ecological Section chief, whether wolves removed from the population by trapping at depredation sites would go far enough toward managing the overall population.

“Yes, that’s right, so we’re recommending quotas for areas where we think there is more potential for conflicts,” Vander Zouwen said. “Zones 3 and 4 are zones with more agricultural activity, so we are trying to do both – with permits to landowners and through population reduction where we have more agriculture, while protecting the wolf in the north.”

NRB member Jane Wiley expressed her frustration in that the wolf season framework was set mostly by law by the Legislature, with the balance – the quota, tag numbers, and zones – handed off to the NRB.

Despite the fact that NRB members attempted to inform the public well ahead of time that they’d be limited to commenting on just the areas that are part of the emergency rule (quotas, tags, etc.), many speakers still asked that the season be delayed, or portions of the season be eliminated that were set by the Legislature, such as hunting with hounds, hunting at night, season length, and use of bait.

Wiley asked DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp to use her “considerable powers of persuasion” to convince legislators “not to use their collective heavy hand to enact laws rather than go through the usual administrative rule process.

“We’ve seen with Act 169 (wolf season) what happens when the DNR staff and the Natural Resources Board are excluded from the process. We need public hearings beyond the natural resources committees of the Assembly and Senate. We need our professional staff’s input, we need the (Conservation) Congress, we need environmental and conservation organizations and interested citizens’ input. And we need the NRB to review the process and set the policy,” Wiley said.

First wolf season

Before approving the wolf harvest quota, tag numbers, and zones, the NRB also approved three amendments to the original motion: Any trapped wolves will be humanely dispatched (some speakers said hunters and trappers would club wolves to death); the Stockbridge-Munsee reservation will be added to a list of five other reservations that will have no wolf hunting or trapping (zero quota); and the DNR will come back in September with a timeline on updating the wolf plan while also agreeing to gather as much data as possible on the first wolf season before the NRB takes up a permanent rule.

The season will run Oct. 15 through Feb. 28, with permit applications going on sale for $10 on Aug. 1. The drawing is expected to be the first or second week of September. The license fee is $100 for residents; $500 for nonresidents.

Sportsmen who are not drawn will receive a preference point. After the first year, half of the licenses will be issued to drawing winners (preference point holders), and half will be issued by random draw.

License and application fees will fuel the wolf depredation payment fund to cover livestock and pet losses. If losses exceed revenue, the farmers and pet owners will receive pro-rated reimbursement. If funds exceed losses, that extra money will go into the wolf program.

Sportsmen may transfer their wolf tags, but the transfer must be done at least 15 days before the season.

Hunters may use any firearm, bow, or crossbow, but for gun hunters, shot size must be larger than BB. Dog hunters may have up to six dogs in their pack, and hound hunting begins the day after the nine-day gun deer season. Night hunting will be allowed beginning the day after the nine-day gun deer season (use of flashlights limited to point of kill). Baiting is allowed, with restrictions, and electronic calls are allowed.

Trappers may use cable restraints and leg-hold traps, as allowed by trapping regulations.

The season closes in each zone as the quotas are reached. Sportsmen must report their wolf kills within 24 hours.

Because this first season is taking place under an emergency administrative rule approved July 17 by the NRB, the DNR will continue working on a permanent rule that could be in place by the 2013 season.

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