By Sean Kirkby
A bill establishing more relaxed wolf-killing laws in Wisconsin may lead to the species being relisted as endangered, although its supporters claim it would lead to more effective management of the population.
Adrian Treves, University of Wisconsin environmental studies professor and expert on public opinions toward wolves, submitted testimony Feb. 8 to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Environment arguing the current bill needs revision.
According to an analysis by the Legislative Reference Bureau, the bill would establish a hunting season for wolves from Oct. 15 through the end of February.
“As a species fresh off the endangered species list and a species with very special meaning to many people, including the sovereign tribal nations in our state, this bill should be amended to accord the wolf its due place among Wisconsin’s premier wildlife,” Treves said in his testimony.
Treves said in his testimony that according to his research, the vast majority of Wisconsinites support wolf hunts as long as they are designed to reduce wolf depredations, where wolves attack livestock or pets, without putting in question the wolf population.
He said in his testimony the bill does not ensure sustainable wolf harvests nor target wolf depredations and, if it passes, would increase the risk of relisting the wolf as an endangered species.
Treves also said in his testimony the bill proposes such methods as hunting wolves with dogs at night, which he said have not been tested in Wisconsin for effectiveness or success rate.
He said this could lead to unintended consequences for people or other wildlife and recommended amending the bill to allow one or more years to study these issues.
“Haste makes waste,” Treves said in his testimony. “We risk wasting the opportunity for Wisconsin to manage its own wolves without federal intervention.”
However, Casey Langan, spokesperson for the Wisconsin Farm Federation Bureau, supports the wolf hunt because it would limit wolf depredation, a major issue as the wolf population has more than doubled management goals.
Following the delisting of the gray wolf from the endangered species list, the Department of Natural Resources has started issuing permits allowing farmers who have experienced depredations to hunt wolves. However, Langan said these measures do not go far enough.
He said the current number of wolves far surpasses the management numbers DNR wanted, as DNR intended to only have 350 wolves in Wisconsin. According to their current survey numbers, Wisconsin has more than 800 gray wolves.
Jeff Nass, spokesperson for Wisconsin Firearms Owners, Ranges, Clubs & Educators, a chartered organization for the National Rifle Association, said his organization supports the wolf hunt since it would give the DNR another tool to manage the wolf population.
“Nobody wants to wipe out the population,” Nass said. “We just want management processes in place to control it.”
Nass said fears of the hunt putting the gray wolves back on the endangered species list are unfounded because other wolf hunts established in other states have not put wolves back on the list.
Nass also said the wolf hunt would decrease wolf depredations.
“Once the natural fear of man comes into play, the attacks on livestock will go down because they’ll stay away from things that smell human,” Nass said.