By Wisconsin State Journal and Leader-Telegram staff
MADISON – Some of the state’s top wolf scientists caution that an Assembly bill establishing a wolf hunting season goes too far and does not offer enough protections against killing too many of the state’s 800 to 1,000 wolves and returning the animal to the federal endangered species list.
The biologists, while supportive of a hunting season to manage the state’s growing wolf population, disagreed this week at a committee hearing with provisions of the bill from the proposed structure of the hunt to allowing hunters to use dogs, trapping and night-time hunting to kill wolves.
The proposal was supported by several hunting groups, including the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association and the Wisconsin Hunters’ Rights Coalition. The bill could come up for a vote in the Assembly Natural Resources Committee as early as next week.
State Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, who co-authored the bill, said after this week’s hearing that he is open to making changes. “What we have now is not set in stone,” Suder said.
State Senator Terry Moulton, R-town of Seymour, has authored a companion wolf hunt bill in the state Senate, along with State Senator Jim Holperin, D-Eagle River, and state Senator Frank Lasee, R-Depere.
Moulton noted the state’s estimated adult wolf population of more than 800 animals is quite a bit more than the management goal of 350 animals, and livestock damage and the wolves’ impact on the northern deer population are a concern. “The DNR has actually been concerned about the number of wolves and couldn’t do anything because up until now because they’ve been on the endangered species list,” he said.
In the proposed season, wolf permits for hunting and trapping would be issued by lottery, similar to the bear hunt. Applications would cost $10, and the permit would cost $100. The state would be divided into four wolf management zones.
Although hunting with dogs would be allowed, Moulton expected that it would be rare because of the risk to the dogs if the wolves were in a pack and turned on the dogs. He expected the permits would be used for trapping or by hunters using predator calls which mimic an injured rabbit or small animal to draw in predators.
The state Senate does not have a hearing date set, but Moulton said he thought it would be soon. “The goal is to try and get this complete by April. The goal is to try and have a season yet this year,” he said. The proposed season would run from mid-October through the end of February, he said.
Among those who testified at the Assembly hearing was Dick Thiel, who is retired but started the wolf recovery program for the state Department of Natural Resources in the 1980s. He also is the author of two books on Wisconsin’s wolf recovery efforts.
“As it is written now, you run the risk of seriously offending many citizens who have supported wolf recovery for 35 years,” Thiel said. “And that will invite litigation that will lock up progress on wolf management.”
Thiel said the hunting proposal should not be aimed at reducing the state’s wolf population to 350 animals, the population management goal set in the DNR’s management plan. Thiel and others, including Tim Van Deelen, a UW-Madison wildlife ecologist who helped author the wolf management plan, said the population goal of 350 was set 20 years ago and dramatically underestimated the capacity of the Wisconsin landscape to support wolves. Also, he said, there is little research on the impact of hunting on a recovering wolf population.
Although the hunting bill does not cite an ultimate population goal, Suder said at the beginning of the hearing that he would like to see the population reduced to 350 wolves statewide to cut down on the number of farm animals and pets being killed by wolves.
“We need to make sure people are secure in their homes,” he said. “We cannot afford the kind of incidents that have been occurring.”
State Rep. Roger Rivard, R-Rice Lake, who wrote the bill with Suder, said it is not the intent of the hunting bill to reduce the population to 350 animals. Rather, he said, the bill gives the DNR the authority to arrive at a number that ensures the wolf’s future in Wisconsin.