The hunting group that successfully sued to hold a wolf hunt earlier this year is promising to fight the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) decision to set the quota for this fall’s planned wolf hunt at less than half what a state board had voted for.
The looming fight and potential legal battle are yet another instance of political polarization over the state’s conservation policies.
For years, but especially this summer, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Secretary Preston Cole have been clashing with the Natural Resources Board (NRB), which governs the DNR. Republican appointees continue to hold a 4-3 majority on the board — most notably because the board’s chair, Frederick Prehn, refuses to vacate his seat even though his term expired in May and his replacement has been nominated.
In August, a meeting of the NRB got especially heated when Cole accused Prehn of abusing his power and in September, the DNR refused to participate in the NRB’s scheduled meeting, causing Prehn to cancel it.
On Monday, the DNR announced the quota for the wolf hunt scheduled for November will be set at 130. This summer, the NRB had gone against the recommendations of DNR scientists and voted to set the quota at 300.
This is the first time the DNR has ignored the quota voted on by the NRB, according to department spokesperson Sarah Hoye. But she says the department is fully within its rights and following state law.
Under the DNR-set quota, state-licensed hunters and trappers will be able to kill 74 wolves while treaties between the state and the Ojibwe tribes grant them the remaining 56.
The tribes are unlikely to conduct a hunt of the animal they consider sacred. In February, the tribes did not use any of their quota and are currently suing to stop the November hunt.
“Although the Board voted to have a wolf harvest quota of 300, department scientists considered the best available scientific information on the state’s wolf population and applicable published scientific models in developing a quota of 130 which they determined is most likely to meet the department’s management objective of no significant population change,” Hoye says. “The department is charged with managing the harvest of the wolf population following the best available science and biology. We are also charged with honoring our treaties with Wisconsin’s Ojibwe Tribes.”
“Again, we applied the best available science to achieve the objective of no change to the population until a new management plan is complete,” she adds. “The department is implementing a quota in a manner that meets its responsibilities under the law.”
Hoye pointed to provisions in state statutes and the Wisconsin administrative code as the department’s reasoning for rejecting the NRB quota.
Wisconsin statute 29.185 states that “in regulating wolf hunting and trapping, the department may limit the number of wolf hunters and trappers and the number of wolves that may be taken by issuing wolf harvesting licenses.”
Section NR 10.145 of the administrative code also states that “the wolf harvest quota shall be determined annually by the department.”
But Hunter Nation, a nonprofit organization that has been heavily involved in the state’s conservation policy over the last two years, said on Tuesday it is looking into its legal options for challenging the DNR’s decision.
“The Natural Resources Board is the governing body of the department and we believe this may be another illegal move by the DNR and the Evers administration to override the will of the people,” Luke Hilgemann, President and CEO of Hunter Nation, said. “Hunter Nation is actively reviewing this move with our legal team and will continue to lead the fight to make sure that this season’s wolf hunt continues at the 300 quota approved by the board.”
In February, Hunter Nation successfully sued the DNR and forced the state to hold the wolf hunt that ultimately led to hunters killing more than 200 wolves in less than three days even though the quota was set at 119.
This summer, as Prehn held onto power, a lobbyist with Hunter Nation urged him not to leave his seat, emails obtained by the Wisconsin Examiner show. And when Attorney General Josh Kaul sued Prehn in an attempt to force him out, Hunter Nation attempted to intervene in the case on Prehn’s behalf.
Republican lawmakers have also criticized the DNR’s decision on the wolf quota, saying it is harmful to the state’s democratic processes.
“When the possibility of a wolf hunt opened up to Wisconsinites for the first time in almost a decade last year, farmers and families in the Northwoods were relieved. Northern Wisconsin was terrorized by wolves for too long – and the state finally had a way to help,” Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma) said in a statement. “A well-regulated hunt has always been a valuable instrument in the toolbox of resource management.”
“In case we all needed another reminder that the DNR doesn’t consider sportsmen and women valuable partners in resource management, the Department has now gone so far as to defy their own policy-setting board’s decision in setting the parameters for this fall’s wolf hunt. Governor Evers’ department has trampled over the advisory board, which was created in part to take feedback from citizens and ensure that Wisconsinites had a voice in matters of natural resources,” she continued. “It’s sad to see that even the democratic system can’t protect the Northwoods from the Evers administration’s attacks.”
Senate Republicans have played a vital role in keeping the NRB in GOP hands this summer, even though three years after taking office Evers was set to achieve a majority of his appointees on a number of important state boards and commissions.
Staff of Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) met with Prehn soon after he decided not to vacate his seat — even though Prehn had said he wasn’t working with the Senate. The body has also refused to hold a confirmation hearing for Prehn’s replacement, Ashland educator Sandra Dee Naas.
Through a drawing, the DNR will allow 370 applicants to purchase a license for the wolf hunt, which is scheduled to start Nov. 6.