Dating back to the beginning of the year, the ever-evolving saga of Wisconsin’s wolf hunting season has been one of the most polarizing news stories of the year.
In February of this year, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was forced into damage control mode as the hunters incidentally blew bast the state’s harvest quota for the spring wolf hunting season. Despite the higher than intended number of wolves killed, the DNR reassured the public that the state had a robust and resilient wolf population. The agency was confident in its ability to manage the wolf population moving forward.
The issue started making headlines again this summer as the state’s proposed fall wolf hunting season quickly approached. The state DNR set a quota of 130 animals for the fall wolf hunting season, and that number factored in uncertainties surrounding the population and was in accordance with ensuring the long-term sustainability of the species. However, the state’s public Natural Resources Board decided to override that decision and instead set the quota at 300 wolves, and the controversy was back on.
The disagreement reportedly got even tenser at the beginning of October when the state DNR announced that they would openly defy suggestions made by the board and proceed with their original quota of 130 wolves. Although the decision was too late to dampen outrage that was stirred up by the board’s attempted decision to set the quota at 300 wolves and by that time, a coalition of anti-hunting tree-huggers launched a lawsuit aimed at halting the hunt altogether.
The fall wolf hunting season was tentatively slated to kick off on November 6th, with a preliminary injunction for the court case to stop the wolf hunt scheduled for October 29th. With those two important dates looming, a judge has now ordered a temporary pause on wolf hunting in the state altogether until government officials can get a better handle on how to manage the species moving forward.
According to the Courthouse News Service, no hunting or trapping tags or licenses will be issued, and no gray wolves will be harvested in Wisconsin until the DNR can put together a more concrete plan for the future wolf hunting seasons. Last Friday, the decision was made after a judge ruled that the DNR did not follow state law or adhere to the state constitution when developing a framework for the fall hunting season.
Judge Jacob Frost was not willing to permanently ban wolf hunting in the state, nor did he rule that wolf hunting itself was unconstitutional. He merely declared that the fall hunting season was planned without the oversight of typical statutory rulemaking procedures. Another reason he decided to pause the hunt because the state DNR was devising a plan for just this fall season without first developing a more permanent and comprehensive wolf management plan.
The injunction is only temporary, though, which means there is still technically a fall wolf hunting season in Wisconsin, except the quota is set at zero for all six hunting zones, and zero tags licenses or tags will be issued until a permanent and comprehensive wolf management plan is in place. The DNR is developing that plan. It will undoubtedly include a more permanently defined wolf hunting quota, and rightfully so, but that plan is unlikely to be finalized before this fall’s hunting season.
This spring’s wolf hunting season was automatically enacted through an emergency rulemaking process once gray wolves were removed from the endangered species list by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Unfortunately, the agency never took steps to replace that temporary rule change with a permanent one, and until that process is finalized, additional wolf hunting opportunities will not occur.
When explaining his decision, Judge Frost referenced a recent state Supreme Court ruling related to the coronavirus pandemic in which it was determined that government agencies still had to go through state rulemaking procedures and get lawmakers’ approval before being implemented.
“You can’t just start the process, drop the ball and say you followed this expectation.
Even in light of something as serious as the coronavirus pandemic the supreme court said rulemaking still has to happen. Oversight still has to happen…why wouldn’t that same level of oversight be required for this wolf hunt?
The ball is in DNR’s court as to how fast some of these things move.”
Frost also said he erred on the side of caution when making his ruling because the lives of wild animals are at stake, and the hunting can’t be undone.
“Once the wolves are dead… that’s irreparable harm. We can’t just go to Walmart and get new wolves.”
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has not responded to requests for comments regarding the recent ruling, and only time will tell if the agency will be able to put together wolf management plans that satisfy court-ordered requirements in time to salvage wolf hunting opportunities before the season is set to end in February.