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Wisconsin Spotlight | Feb. 3, 2021

MADISON — The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has ignored a state law requiring the scheduling of a wolf hunt season this winter, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.

WILL’s complaint, filed in Jefferson County Circuit Court on behalf of Luke Hilgemann and Hunter Nation, points to the gray wolf’s delisting from the Endangered Species Act on Jan. 4. That triggered a 2012 state law requiring the DNR to schedule a grey wolf hunting season between November and February.

The lawsuit lists the DNR, agency Secretary Preston Cole, and the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board as defendants.

“Wisconsin law requires the DNR to hold a hunting and trapping season if the gray wolf is not under federal protections,” Hilgemann said in statement. “Despite this clear mandate, Governor Evers, Secretary Cole and the Department of Natural Resources are playing politics and intentionally delaying the wolf harvest to give radical anti-hunting groups time to block the delisting and stop a hunt altogether.”

Hilgemann, from Marshfield, is chief executive officer of Hunter Nation, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and protecting America’s hunting heritage and the right to hunt. He previously served as CEO of Americans For Prosperity.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first proposed removing the gray wolf from protection under the Endangered Species Act in March 2019. The federal agency proposed a final rule to delist that went into effect on Jan. 4.

Critics say the left-leaning DNR board is slow-walking the launch of a hunting season. Pressed by opponents, the board narrowly voted down opening the season by Feb. 10.

The lawsuit points to President Joe Biden’s executive order issued on his first day in office. It requires all agency heads to “immediately review all existing regulations, orders, guidance documents, policies and any other similar agency actions” taken between Jan. 20, 2017 and Jan. 20, 2021. In short, the liberal president wants to wipe out the actions of his predecessor, conservative President Donald Trump.

“The White House announced that this review will include review by the U.S. Department of the Interior of the decision to remove the wolf from the federal endangered species list,” the lawsuit states. “In other words, there is a substantial possibility that Wisconsinites’ time to hunt wolves is limited.”

Destruction in numbers

Gray wolf numbers have surged in recent decades in northern and central Wisconsin forest lands, to more than 1,000 as of December, according to the DNR. Wildlife managers count nearly 4,500 wolves in the western Great Lakes states —  Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Wisconsin’s wolf population, once considered nonexistent, is nearly three times the size of population goals established by the state. And the growing packs have proved more than a nuisance to farmers, hunters and pet owners.

Ashleigh Calaway is one of many Wisconsin farm family members that has seen the destruction firsthand. The Wisconsin Farm Bureau employee wrote about how her father-in-law walked down to check his sheep in pasture, only to find their massacred remains.

“Less than two hours later, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife adjuster was out and began his investigation and after finding tracks was able to confirm it was a wolf kill,” Calalway wrote.

“Imagine waking up one morning and everything that you have worked towards for the last thirty years is gone. In a blink of an eye you have lost over thirty years of genetics. Thirty years of blood, sweat, and tears. Just to be told that there is nothing you can really do about it except fill out some paperwork and wait for a small reimbursement that won’t equal the true value of the animals you lost.”

DNR has made $1.8 million in payments over the past decade to cover losses sustained by wolf kills, according to the agency.

Wisconsin law states DNR “shall allow the hunting and trapping of wolves,” and that the agency must “establish a single annual open season for both hunting and trapping wolves that begins on the first Saturday in November of each year and ends on the last day of February of the following year.”

The lawsuit notes the DNR has had years of advance notice to prepare for the delisting and wolf management practices, including the seasonal hunt.

“The Wisconsin DNR does not have the discretion to determine whether to follow state law when it comes to scheduling a gray wolf hunt,” said Anthony LoCoco, WILL’s deputy counsel. “WILL intends to hold Wisconsin’s administrative agencies accountable until this pattern of ignoring state law ends.”

Photo: USA Today Network

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