When Wisconsin's first wolf hunt begins, hunters will have to go after the top predator without the use of hunting dogs as a result of a recent lawsuit brought by humane societies.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Dane County Circuit Court Judge Peter C. Anderson has scheduled Dec. 20 for a hearing on the department's request to lift the injunction on the use of dogs to pursue wolves. Officials at the DNR said they are alerting wolf hunters, who were recently notified of their licenses in the new hunting season, that the season will proceed, but hunters won't be able to use dogs.
Hunters who got licenses to hunt or trap wolves were selected in a lottery from the pool of those who had signed up for a chance to get a license.
State statute and DNR rules created the hunting season and state lawmakers specifically put the use of dogs into the bill that they passed to create the first wolf hunt, but an injunction by the court has stayed the use of dogs for the moment.
Hunters said that the use of dogs is important in the hunt because it ensures greater success in the hunt. They also don't like the precedent being set by this case.
United Sportsmen of Wisconsin (USW) said this week that they were joining the U.S. Sportsmen Alliance, Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association and Safari Club International in filing a motion to intervene in the lawsuit.
If the sports groups succeed in becoming part of the lawsuit, it would mean the court would hear their views before the judge would rule.
"Intervening in this case is very important to ensure the hunting public's voice is heard," said Dean Hamilton, president of the USW. "There are several statutory laws, which we feel the judge ignored including Act 21 and our constitutional right to hunt, fish and trap."
All of the sporting groups are concerned that the case is "manipulating" animal cruelty claims to restrict hunting. They said they wanted to get a voice in this lawsuit to try to prevent what they feel is a dangerous precedent.
In his initial ruling - which many thought might halt the entire wolf hunting season - the judge said that there was the possibility of dogs being maimed or killed if they were used in wolf hunting. Anderson ruled that the season could go forward but must do so, at least initially, without the use of dogs.
The Dec. 20 hearing will take another look at that aspect of the case. At that time Anderson will consider the DNR's request to lift the injunction on using dogs to pursue wolves. At some point between now and then the court will rule on the motion of the sports groups to be part of the lawsuit.
"Manipulating the animal cruelty laws to restrict hunting eventually will lead to banning hunting altogether," said Andy Pantzlaff, vice president of the USW. "We as sportsmen and women cannot allow this to go unchallenged."
Kurt Thiede, the DNR's lands division administrator, said that there is a real need for the state to reduce its current wolf population and that wildlife officials in the agency believe the use of dogs is the best way for hunters to be successful.
"We have learned from other states that harvesting a wolf can be difficult. The use of dogs is a key way to increase hunter success. We will continue to work with the court to remove the injunction on the use of dogs, but unfortunately dogs will be sidelined for this hunt until at least late December," Thiede said.
The temporary injunction on the use of dogs was put in place in August while Judge Anderson considers the case brought against the DNR by humane society groups opposing the use of dogs in the wolf hunt.
The injunction temporarily prevents the use of dogs for hunting wolves, and also prevents the training of dogs to hunt wolves.
As a result of the court's ruling, DNR officials said hunters and trappers should be aware that the use of dogs for tracking and trailing wolves is not authorized when they are hunting wolves under a state wolf license.
Also, the use of dogs for training to track or trail free-ranging wolves is not authorized at this time, the DNR statement said.
The wolf hunt will begin on Oct. 15. Prior to the injunction, the use of dogs to track or trail wolves was slated to start Nov. 26, after the deer gun season, and continue through the end of the wolf season Feb. 28.
More information on the wolf hunt is available on the DNR website - dnr.wi.gov and search "wolf."