At a contentious public hearing, concerned citizens lashed out against a bill establishing a wolf hunt they claimed was formed without consultation of the public, while officials say it would curtail a growing population problem.
The Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Environment heard testimony Tuesday on a bill that would establish a state wolf hunt from Oct. 15 until the end of February. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources would be able to issue wolf hunting permits to in-state and out-of-state residents under the proposal.
Sen. Terry Moulton, R-Chippewa Falls, a co-author of the bill, said the measure is needed to achieve current wolf management goals. He said the population has gone from an estimated 25 wolves in the mid-1980s to a population between 800 and 1,000 wolves today, while DNR management goals have set the population goal at 350.
Moulton said the bill is needed to control wolf depredations, where wolves attack livestock. He said 96 percent of wolf depredation payments from the state government have been made in the past 12 years.
“The bottom line is that our wolf population is out of control,” Moulton said.
Sen. Jim Holperin, D-Conover, said the management goals have not been modified for years and the bill has no reference to the set goal of 350. He said while he supports the bill, he wonders if 350 might be a little low.
Moulton said the bill was crafted in consultation with DNR officials and since the species was recently removed from the endangered species list and handed over to state control, they would need to continue counting the wolves to ensure they would not be relisted as endangered.
However, Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, raised concerns about parts of the bill allowing night hunting of wolves, which he said might be unsafe. He said a coyote and a raccoon are not as aggressive as a wolf and wolves are much larger than coyotes and raccoons.
DNR Land Division Administrator Kurt Thiede said since the delisting of wolves from the federal endangered species list at the end of January, DNR has given out permits to hunt wolves to land owners who have had a history of depredation. He said to date they have issued 46 permits and only one wolf has been harvested.
“While we feel that we do have the tools to address specific problem wolves, a harvest season would provide us with the additional tools needed to bring the wolf population to within the goals established,” Thiede said.
In written testimony submitted to the committee, Robert Chicks, Stockbridge-Munsee Community Tribal Council president, said the bill is moving quickly through the legislature and has left little opportunity for Wisconsin tribes and the public to comment.
He said in his testimony the bills were drafted without any consultation with the sovereign tribes of Wisconsin and the bill would hinder the ability of tribes to manage the wolf population.
“These bills represent an unnecessary and ill-considered rush to enact sweeping changes to wolf management in Wisconsin,” Chicks said in his testimony. “Wolf management should be based on the best available science, sound conservation practices, broad public input and should be consistent with state management plans.”