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Senate committee approves controversial wolf hunt

By Sean Kirkby

A Senate committee passed a bill Thursday legalizing a gray wolf hunt in Wisconsin, putting the bill on the fast track for passage in the Senate.

The bill would establish a wolf hunt from Oct. 15 to the end of February, providing licenses to both in-state and out-of-state residents. The bill passed out of the Senate Committee on Natural Resource five to two.

The gray wolf was delisted from the Federal Endangered Species list at the end of January, and management was turned over to the state.

Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, did not vote for the passing of the bill because he said he still had issues with its proposals.

“I have issues with culling a species from over 1,000 down to an arbitrary number of 350,” Wanggard said. “I have issues with night hunting, especially because of how big these guys are. I have an issue with that. I guess I’m not comfortable just leaving it up to the DNR to do it.”

He said while he was not voting for the bill today, it may pass “overwhelmingly” in the Senate, despite his concerns.

Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, said he was voting against the bill because of the testimony the committee heard from academic wolf researchers at a public hearing held Tuesday.

“I want to make sure the DNR has the ability to work on these issues of wildlife management without politics,” Larson said.

Sen. Jim Holperin, D-Conover, said he would be voting for the bill because if the state does not get a wolf season in place, the politics surrounding the issue will only escalate.

He said given the “prolific” nature of the wolf population, the state needs to address the population problem now.

The Senate Committee also passed an amendment to bring the bill more in line with the Assembly version of the bill, which the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources passed 13-to-1 Feb. 22.

The amendment allows the Department of Natural Resources to change the number of wolf management and hunting zones from four to whatever number the agency specifies in its management plan, as well as allows the agency to establish further review methods for wolf hunting licenses.

Sen. Terry Moulton, R-Chippewa Falls, said the Assembly also passed an amendment allowing the DNR to require a person who kills a wolf to physically present the carcass for registration. He said he intends to introduce the amendment when the bill reaches the floor, which would make the Senate bill consistent with the Assembly version.

However, no amendments were offered that addressed the methods of hunting wolves. The bill allows the hunting of wolves at night, hunting with dogs and the use of baiting methods.

Will Stahl, conservation committee chair for the John Muir chapter of the Wisconsin Sierra Club, said his organization supports a wolf management plan but still has concerns about the current bill.

“However, we have a lot of concerns, especially with the methods of hunting, including the use of dogs and baiting,” Stahl said. “We’re not taking a position on the wolf hunt, but we have a lot of concerns about the bill.”