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WI: Bill would set wolf hunting season

Legislation plans to keep population at about 350

Written by Kevin Murphy
For the Marshfield News-Herald

MADISON — A bill to establish a wolf hunting and trapping season is necessary to control a “burgeoning” wolf population in order to protect livestock and pets, state Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder told a legislative committee Wednesday.

The Abbotsford Republican introduced legislation (AB 502) last week that would permit annual wolf hunting between Oct. 15 and the end of February, and for part of the season allow the use of dogs, traps, bait and night hunting to gradually reduce the wolf population from an estimated 800 to 1,000 animals to a targeted goal of 350.

“Many constituents of mine would say there’s more than (1,000 wolves), but 350 is where we need to be,” Suder said.

Suder also said he has worked on the bill with the Department of Natural Resources to set harvest limits on a “top predator” that caused the state to pay more than $300,000 last year to reimburse farmers who lost livestock to wolves.

“This (doesn’t establish) an open wolf killing season. It’s a management tool, like the bear season, to protect pet and livestock owners, natural resource users and the burden (wolves) are causing,” he said.

Democrats on the Assembly Natural Resources Committee cautioned Suder to go slow on hunting an animal that only recently was removed from the federal endangered species list. Unexpected hunter success could cause the wolf population to drop below 350 and invite the federal government again to put the wolf on the endangered species list.

State Rep. Roger Rivard, R-Rice Lake, who co-sponsored the bill, said wolves aren’t easy to hunt.

“These aren’t dumb animals. They are difficult to trap … and I doubt we’d drop the population to 350 in the first season,” he said.

Both state and federal agencies agree that 350 wolves are sufficient to sustain the species’ population in Wisconsin.

The bill authorizes the DNR to close the wolf season within 24 hours if hunters are unexpectedly successful, Suder said.

State Rep. Louis Molepske Jr., D-Stevens Point, objected to the bill allowing landowners without a license to shoot wolves on their property. Suder said that provision will be removed from the bill, and without a license, landowners only will be allowed to shoot a wolf that is in the act of attacking livestock, a pet or a person.

If Wisconsin has 800 to 1,000 wolves, state Rep. Chris Danou, D-Trempealeau, said an annual harvest of 100 to 150 wolves would allow the state to sustain its wolf population. Given the amount of interest in wolf hunting, Danou said hunters should expect to wait several years before receiving a license.

“It could be similar to bear hunting, where the wait varies from five to nine years, depending on the area of the state,” said Kurt Thiede, who heads the DNR’s wildlife and endangered species programs.

The bill has the support of several organizations, including the Wisconsin Farmers Union, the National Rifle Associations, Wisconsin Wildlife Association, Cattlemen Association and United Sportsmen.

The bill prices a wolf harvesting license at $99.25 for residents and $499.25 for nonresidents, with the revenue funding reimbursement to those who lost livestock or hunting dogs to wolves.

The committee took no action on the bill Wednesday but should schedule it for a vote later this month.