On December 2, Wisconsin became the only state in the U.S. to allow hunters to dogs to go after wolves, despite the known risks and widespread opposition.
Last year, a coalition of animal advocacy groups and individuals filed a lawsuit against the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Natural Resources Board (NRB) over a provision that would allow hunters to use dogs during last year’s hunting season. They argued that the state did not have adequate protections in place to keep dogs safe during hunting and training and that using them would inevitably end in violent confrontations, resulting in what would otherwise be legalized dog fighting in violation of the state’s anti-cruelty and animal fighting laws.
Dane County Circuit Judge Peter Anderson ruled in favor of those advocating for dogs and wolves last summer and issued an injunction barring the DNR from issuing licenses that allow the use of dogs to hunt wolves and preventing hunters from training them to do so, but the injunction was vacated in January.
Jodi Habush Sinykin, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said at the time that there was broad opposition from citizens and hunters to landowners, trackers and community humane societies. A number of experts also came out on their side opposing the use of dogs.
Richard Thiel, a hunter, trapper and retired wildlife biologist for the state’s DNR, testified that attacks would be “swift and furious” and cited multiple studies about wolf behavior. He also highlighted numerous reasons why pitting dogs against wolves would result in unnecessary bloodshed and incidences of dogs being killed by wolves – namely that wolves are territorial and see dogs as a threat, especially when they’re guarding their young and through breeding season, which runs from late December through mid-March.
Just the presence of dogs in wolf territory is inherently dangerous and puts dogs at risk of being attacked, yet hunters are eager to get out there with them and continue to argue that nothing will go wrong.
Last year those who were impatiently waiting to get out and start killing wolves feared that the hunt would be canceled altogether and argued that the dogs were necessary and nothing would happen to them, but the state already has a long history of dogs being killed by wolves when they’re taken out with bear hunters. The past two seasons clearly prove they’re not needed.
This year the DNR boosted the kill quota from 116 to 251 for a season that started in mid-October and is supposed to run through February, but at the end of November hunters were only about 30 wolves away from reaching the goal, and five of six zones had already been closed.
A lawsuit seeking to stop the use of dogs is in the appeals court, but hopes of a last minute ruling have been dashed, and no one knows when a decision will be made.
According to Rachel Tilseth, founder of Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin, the group is supporting a bill that would remove dogs from wolf hunts, but its being stalled by the legislature. For more information about how to help wolves and dogs in the state, visit WODCW’s Facebook page.
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