A Dane County judge issued a final ruling last week that will allow hunters to use dogs to hunt wolves, but not to train them to track wolves during the year – making Wisconsin the only state in the nation that allows wolf hunting with dogs.
The decision stems from a lawsuit that was filed in August by animal advocacy groups against the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Natural Resources Board (NRB) over the provision that would allow hunters to use dogs, arguing that the agency failed to place any real restrictions on the use of dogs, in addition to claiming that the use of dogs would result in a number of horrible scenarios ranging from animal cruelty to what would otherwise be legalized dog fighting in violation of the state’s anti-cruelty and animal fighting laws.
“A broad range of Wisconsin citizens oppose the rules established for this season,” Jodi Habush Sinykin, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, said at the time. “From hunters to landowners, ecologists to volunteer trackers and community humane societies, there is strong agreement that the season was set up without the restrictions needed to prevent deadly animal fighting.”
The DNR argued that it did not have the authority to enact regulations under the existing legislation authorizing wolf hunting, ACT 169, which was passed last April. The bill allowed for hunters to pursue wolves with up to six dogs with an emergency provision that limited their use to daylight hours, but did not impose any other restrictions.
Judge Peter Anderson issued a temporary injunction banning the use of dogs in this years wolf hunt this summer, but issued a final ruling last Friday that state law, as it is written, allows for the use of dogs to hunt wolves and ruled at the same time that the DNR had the authority, but no obligation to impose restrictions on the use of hunting dogs during hunts.
His specific ruling was in regards to legislation on dog trials and training, which was deemed invalid since it was established in 2003 and did not include any language about wolves since they weren’t considered a game species at the time. Anderson ruled that in this case, the DNR did have an obligation to alter existing rules to deal with potential problems that could result between dogs and wolves.
“There is no evidence that there is a safe way to undertake training of dogs to hunt wolves,” Anderson said. “The agency had authority to put in place rules, but it failed to act.”
“It is not sufficient for the agency to disregard all the evidence on this issue,” he said. “Or more specifically, to do nothing.”
The pro-wolf hunting crowd seems happy with the decision, despite the fact that they clearly don’t need dogs to hunt wolves since the hunt was ended last month after 117 wolves were killed when it was scheduled to end at the end of February.
“We are pleased that Judge Anderson removed the injunction that banned the use of dogs for hunting wolves,” said DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp in a statement. “However, we are disappointed with Judge Anderson’s decision to prohibit training of dogs to hunt wolves. We will continue to seek input from the public and from stakeholders — including tribes — as we continue to develop permanent rules on the wolf season, and the use of dogs for both training and hunting of wolves.”
However, Assistant Attorney General Tom Dawson, who represented the DNR, argued that anyone is allowed to train dogs on wildlife as long as the dogs don’t kill anything and that those rules should allow unrestricted use on wolves.
The DNR is now working on creating permanent rules for wolf hunting and trapping in Wisconsin, which are expected to be finalized in 2014.
“There’s a bigger picture here; not just about wolves and not just about dogs. Its about whether the DNR is going to engage in rule-making the way it historically has based on science and based on environmental stewardship. Or whether the Natural Resources Board and the DNR is going to be excessively influenced by political pressure and we all know that’s what happened here,” said Carl Silderbrand, an attorney for the animal advocacy groups.
Elsewhere in the state, Deanna Devaul, a member of the Alliance for Animals, is organizing a memorial that will involve candles, bell-ringing and a poem honoring the wolves who were killed this season, which is scheduled for Friday afternoon in front of the DNR headquarters in Madison.
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