After an adverse court ruling, the state’s Natural Resources Board Monday unanimously signed off on a February wolf hunt.
The board had originally rejected establishing a hunt in a 4-3 vote last month. But a Jefferson County Circuit Court judge last week said board members violated state law and ordered the DNR to immediately set up a hunt for the remainder of the month.
“It is the intent of this board today to comply with such order,” said Board Chair Fred Prehn.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department on Friday asked the state Court of Appeals to stay the lower court’s order as litigation plays out. While petitioners asked the court to issue its stay by the end of today, as of 4:30 p.m. the court hadn’t issued a ruling.
Prehn in yesterday’s meeting said that while the board and DNR had been named as defendants, DOJ didn’t consult with him or the rest of the board before moving forward with the appeal.
DNR today will begin taking permit applications for the February hunt, which will run until Feb. 28 with a 200-wolf harvesting quota. Applications for November’s hunt open immediately after.
Keith Warnke, administrator of the Fish, Wildlife & Parks division, told the board the agency reached its 200-wolf count based on previous harvest numbers and the latest population data. But he highlighted the rushed effort left little time for public surveys or input from the tribal nations.
“Was there more we would like to do? Yes,” he said. “Are we confident and comfortable with the quota recommendation we made? We would’ve been more confident and more comfortable had we taken more time.”
Gray wolves had been federally protected as an endangered species. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last month under the Trump administration officially delisted the animals, citing a population recovery.
Some observers expect the administration of Dem President Biden to undo Trump’s ruling and relist the wolves. Republicans have cited this as all the more reason to hold a February season.
The state had its inaugural hunt in 2012 only for the wolf to be placed back on the Federal Endangered Species Act in 2014 due to a U.S. Supreme Court decision. The agency set a quota of 201 wolves for the 2012 hunt and reported 117 were harvested.
According to DNR, more than 1,000 wolves roam the state, primarily in the Northwoods. The animals in the past went extinct inside state borders but recent packs have recolonized the area.
U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Minocqua, in a statement praised the court order and today’s board ruling establishing the hunt.
“This is a great victory for accurate science, Wisconsin sportsmen, farmers and families that has been years in the making,” he said.
The Sierra Club, the Humane Society of the United States and the Center for Biological Diversity today sought to file a non-party brief in the DNR’s appeal. In it, the groups argue the DNR’s quota of 200 wolves isn’t based on science, the agency’s population estimates are outdated and its goal of 350 wolves in the state was based on an outdated assessment.
See yesterday’s NRB agenda: