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

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Judge critical of state’s evidence in wolf lawsuit

Madison — Challengers of the state’s new wolf season interpreted the DNR’s hound hunting segment of the regulations very literally – and narrowly – when they asked a Dane County judge to hold the hunting of wolves with hounds in abeyance.

The DNR’s wolf season rules say hunters may use hounds to “track and trail” wolves.

The three lawyers representing a coalition of humane societies and individual plaintiffs claim that if a hound engages a wolf, or even brushes up against a wolf as part of the pursuit, the dog’s owner has violated the law.

Further, the plaintiffs’ lawyers said Aug. 29 during a Dane County Circuit Court hearing on the lawsuit that using dogs to pursue wolves would create “a bloodbath” in northern Wisconsin as wolves attack and injure pursuing hounds. If that happens, dog owners will have violated the state’s animal cruelty laws, they claim.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers also told Dane County Circuit Court Judge Peter C. Anderson that the DNR should have written restrictions into the wolf season rule that would prevent dog and wolf contact. They suggested that hunters place hounds on leashes for the trailing segment of a hound/wolf hunt.

Anderson did not issue a ruling Aug. 29 on the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction on – at a minimum – the hound hunting portion of the wolf season rules.

The judge said he would rule instead following another hearing that was to have taken place the afternoon of Friday, Aug. 31. Anderson also gave Assistant Attorney General Cynthia Hirsch until Sept. 7 to file a response brief to the coalition’s brief on Hirsch’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Anderson set another hearing for 2 p.m. on Sept. 14. Following that hearing, he expects to issue a ruling on the state’s motion to dismiss the suit.

Hirsch was assisted by Tim Andryk, chief of the DNR’s legal services.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs are Carl Sinderbrand, Jodi Habush Sinykin, and Robert Habush.

April 29 proceedings

Anderson good naturedly – but seriously – chided Hirsch and Andryk over the content of their brief. He wanted to know details about the wolf damage program, how many hunters might use hounds to hunt wolves, how many hounds might be attacked by wolves while in pursuit, differences between hunting wolves with dogs and training dogs on wolves, why the DNR didn’t recommend – and the Natural Resources Board didn’t place – more restrictions on hound hunting, and, if the DNR did consider public comments from both sides on that issue, why he couldn’t find that evidence in the record submitted to him.

Anderson had a list of items that he found lacking in the state’s record.

The judge spent about 45 minutes of the three-hour hearing working over Hirsch and Andryk on that point.

Heading into the hearing, it was the AG’s and DNR’s plan to argue legal aspects of the plaintiffs’ lawsuit to keep their argument refined and focused. It didn’t take long for Anderson to indicate that approach was an error, at least in his view.

“You have explained why the Natural Resources Board did what it did, but you have not explained why that’s not in my information,” Anderson said to Hirsch.

On another disagreement over the meaning of a heading on page 42 of the state’s record, Hirsch acknowledged that “the heading is not well-worded.”

Several times as Anderson looked for information in the state’s brief, Hirsch said he could find the information on the DNR’s website. He didn’t say anything in reply at those moments, but later he told

Hirsch that if any of his rulings are appealed, it would be much easier for him to forward the record – and for the appellate panel to consider the record – if they didn’t have to look at websites.

He asked Hirsch several times if the law didn’t allow him to ask the state for more information.

Hirsch said she did not agree.

“I’m talking about getting more evidence,” Anderson said. “I’m just hearing about legislation (from Hirsch and Andryk). I’m not hearing about hunters. I’m hearing you say it, but I don’t see it in the record.

The court has the leeway in trying to get that record.

“Why did you not consider eliminating (training hounds on wolves) during the months that pups are born?” Anderson asked, adding that if he sat down with DNR experts, he was sure he would get a good answer. “But it’s not in the record. I have a record from some high-powered experts (from the plaintiffs’ side) coming in and saying this is going to be a blood bath, but there’s nothing in the record from the defense,” Anderson said.

“Someone owns these dogs,” he said, adding that he believes those dog owners love and value their dogs and wouldn’t intentionally put them in harm’s way. “There’s no reason they would want their dogs (injured), but I don’t get that in black and white (from the defense.)”

Sinderbrand picked up on the judge’s displeasure with the lack of evidence from the state and hammered away on their points that had not been countered by the state in the state’s briefs.

When the state said that the plaintiffs lack standing to file the suit, Sinderbrand said the Humane Society’s business is protecting animals. He said a hound/wolf season runs counter to the Humane Society’s mission and creates an added burden for the Humane Society because the group then has to take care of dogs injured by wolves.

“Volunteer wolf trackers go into the woods to collect data for the DNR during the breeding season. They are at direct risk of personal injury (if the judge allows the season to go forward). Their interest in personal safety gives them direct standing. The DNR has created a perfect storm (for disaster by putting) hunters, trainers, and wolf trackers in the woods at the same time,” he said.

Anderson said again that the hounds have to belong to someone. “The government shouldn’t tell us how to impose regulations – the hunters can figure that out for themselves, not the Humane Society. The dogs are their (hunters’) dogs,” he said.

Sinderbrand said the judge had to consider dog safety, human safety, and violations of the state’s animal cruelty laws.

“Hunters who use six dogs have an investment of … ” said Anderson, searching for an estimate, “$15,000 to $30,000? They don’t need the government to tell them what to do with their dogs. That would be an unlawful use of authority.”

“You have evidence that dogs will encounter wolves and that there is a high chance of injury or death. Do you have any evidence in there that shows any (dog owner) is willing to do that?”

Sinderbrand said his evidence is the number of hounds killed by wolves while the hounds pursue bobcats, bears, and coyotes. He said many dogs have been killed in areas were dogs were attacked previously, despite the DNR issuing warnings for those areas. He said several hunters have made multiple claims on dog losses in warning areas.

Sinderbrand referred to retired DNR employees Randy Jurewicz and Dick Thiel as his expert witnesses in that area. Both men filed affidavits on behalf of the coalition of humane societies.

After the hearing, Habush said their lawsuit strictly challenges the use of hounds to hunt wolves. If Anderson were to support their motion, Habush said he wouldn’t object to the rest of the wolf hunting and trapping season continuing forward as set by the DNR.

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