By Todd Richmond
Some northern Wisconsin legislators are proposing a bill that would end the state’s efforts to manage wolves and force police to ignore wolf killings, unless the federal government removes the animals from the endangered species list.
The Republican lawmakers — Reps. Adam Jarchow, Mary Felzkowski and Romaine Quinn along with Sen. Tom Tiffany — released the proposal Wednesday. They said in a memo to their colleagues seeking co-sponsors that wolves “have taken over northern Wisconsin.”
“They are depredating our deer population, killing livestock and attacking family pets,” they said in the memo.
Wolf advocacy groups were quick to blast the bill. The Endangered Species Coalition, the National Wolfwatcher Coalition and Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf and Wildlife issued a joint statement Thursday saying the bill would legalize wolf poaching at a level that could erase the animals from Wisconsin’s landscape. They called the bill “an affront to the majority of Wisconsin citizens who support this species.”
President Barack Obama’s administration removed Great Lakes wolves from the endangered species list in 2012, allowing Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota to take over managing the animals. Wisconsin held three wolf hunting seasons, much to the consternation of animal rights advocates who insisted the population was too fragile to support hunting.
A federal judge placed Great Lake wolves back on the endangered species list in 2014, ending wolf trapping and hunting and preventing farmers from killing wolves that attack their animals.
Wisconsin’s wolf population has been growing since. The DNR released data in June that suggest between 925 and 952 wolves roamed the state last winter. That’s up from between 866 and 897 wolves the previous winter.
Feds restore protected status for Great Lakes wolves
Online DNR records show that so far this year there’s been 39 confirmed wolf attacks on hunting dogs, cattle, sheep and one pet dog. The DNR recorded 76 confirmed wolf attacks in 2016.
Under the bill, the DNR would be prohibited from spending any money to manage wolves other than to reimburse people for losses caused by wolves. Police and wardens would be barred from enforcing any federal or state law relating to wolf management or that prohibits killing wolves. The DNR wouldn’t be allowed to communicate with the federal government about enforcing wolf management laws or support federal enforcement efforts.
The bill wouldn’t apply if the President Donald Trump’s administration removes wolves from the endangered species list.
The lawmakers said in their co-sponsorship memo that the federal government removed Idaho wolves from the list after Gov. Butch Otter issued an executive order in 2011 declaring the state would no longer manage wolves or investigate illegal wolf killings.
A bill that would remove wolves in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and Wyoming from the endangered species list is sitting in the U.S. Senate, but hasn’t been voted on yet.
“Congress has proven to be unable to pass this simple bill to save Wisconsinites from wolves running rampant throughout our state,” Jarchow, Felzkowski, Quinn and Tiffany wrote in their co-sponsorship memo. “Something must be done. If Congress won’t act — we will!”
The Wisconsin bill’s fate is unclear. Aides for state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald didn’t immediately reply to an email seeking comment on the bill’s prospects.