WWF: State is up to challenge of wolf lawsuit

Madison — Sportsmen who remember the state’s handling of the Chippewa treaty rights case may be getting nervous as the Attorney General’s office prepares to defend the new timber wolf season, but George Meyer is confident that a challenge based on the state’s animal cruelty law will have no bearing on the 2012 season.

The Wisconsin Wildlife Federation executive director also expects the wolf season to continue despite a request from Chippewa tribes in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota that the DNR forego the season.

The “animal cruelty” lawsuit was filed Aug. 8. The DNR and AG’s office are preparing for an Aug. 29 preliminary hearing in Dane County Circuit Court before Judge Peter C. Anderson. The DNR and Natural Resources Board are named as defendants.

The lawsuit was filed by Jodi Habush Sinykin on behalf of the Wisconsin Federated Humane Societies, Dane County Humane Society, Wisconsin Humane Society, Fox Valley Humane Association, Northwood Alliance, National Wolfwatcher Coalition, Jayne and Michael Belsky, and Donna Onstott. Habush Sinykin said the new wolf season will violate the state’s animal cruetly laws because wolves will attack hound dogs.

That lawsuit challenges just the portion of the wolf season that allows the use of hounds to trail wolves after the gun deer season.

The 11 Chippewa tribes in the three states have asked the DNR to halt plans for a wolf hunt in Wisconsin that would start Oct. 15. Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission Director Jim Zorn said the tribes believe the hunt is “biologically reckless” and “culturally harmful” to tribal members. The tribes also have claimed all of the wolves in northern Wisconsin.

In her reply to the tribes, DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp “respectfully disagreed with that claim (see Page 17 in this issue for more on the DNR response).

An emergency rule passed by the NRB on July 17 allowed the hunt, but at the same time created no-wolf-hunting zones around the Indian reservations that requested that action.

“The tribes want the DNR to shut down the hunt in northern Wisconsin,” Meyer said. “I know what the DNR’s response will be – what it has to be. The DNR will say that it’s interpreting that letter as the tribes setting title to half of the wolves in the ceded territory.”

Meyer said that has to be the DNR stance because the wolf season is set in statute by the Legislature. The DNR has to follow that law.

As for the Humane Society lawsuit, Meyer believes it’s dead in the water because state law exempts hunting, fishing, and trapping seasons from the animal cruelty law. Exemptions to that law also are provided for animal research and dog training (captive animals) situations.

“That law is very solid and it’s something that everyone has known about from the hunting side from day one,” Meyer said. “There is an exemption for the taking of animals as described in sections of the DNR’s Chapter 29, which is all of the DNR’s hunting, fishing, and trapping regulations. The law explicitly exempts Chapter 29 from animal cruetly welfare statutes.”

Meyer said the DNR talked to the AG’s office before the agency drafted the wolf-season rules on that point “because a lawsuit was fairly predictable. The AG will be using that as a defense in the lawsuit,” he said.

Although the lawsuit focuses only on the hound hunting provision in the new wolf season, Habush Sinykin has asked the judge to shut down the entire season if he supports her petition.

Meyer said there’s only a 10-percent chance that would happen if the case goes that far.

“The Aug. 29 hearing will not only address whether (the season) violates the (animal cruelty) law, but if the judge rules it does, what is the remedy the court should grant. They’ve asked for a broad remedy – that the entire season should be stopped. The AG will argue that the remedy should be that only the hunting with dogs provision should be struck. I can’t think of a judge that would not rule that way. The remedy should be as narrow as possible,” he said.

What are the chances of that?

“Judge Anderson is a Dane County judge, so he is not conservative, but he has a reputation of being a good judge,” Meyer said.

Habush Sinykin said the season framework will encourage fights between dogs and wolves.

Meyer said he expects Habush Sinykin to argue that on Aug. 29. WWF has asked the DNR if the agency would like to hear from hound hunters who have experience with wolves, or if the DNR wanted WWF and other conservation groups to file suits in support of the season.

“We offered that to the DNR and AG. They don’t want other groups to intervene at this stage. They want to keep it simple. If it heads south, there will be an opportunity to file in the appeal process. Motions to intervene would be appealed by the other groups and delay the ruling. The DNR and AG want to keep the clutter away so the judge has to rule and rule quickly,” he said.

“If it would go to trial, the motion for a permanent injunction will largely be decided on law – a legal argument as opposed to factual argument. (The DNR and AG) said they’re not going to need (hunter testimony) at this time because they have the law on their side.”

Meyer acknowledged that Habush Sinykin likely will make claims on Aug. 29 that the season framework will encourage wolf-dog confrontations.

“They’re going to have to show harm, which is going to be very difficult. Also, there’s an old saying – if you’re weak on law, argue facts. But, with the current animal cruelty law exempting Chapter 29, even if the Humane Society were right, the Legislature could say, like it or not, it’s exempted,” Meyer said.

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