In an early Wednesday morning session, legislators approved a controversial bill establishing a gray wolf hunt in Wisconsin after rejecting a number of amendments offered by Democratic legislators.
The bill would establish a wolf hunt from Oct. 15 to the end of February and passed the Assembly by a vote of 69 to 25. The bill passed the Senate last week and will now head to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk to be signed into law.
Legislators also rejected a host of amendments to the bill offered by Democrats, which they argued would improve the bill.
Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, said wolf biologists have raised concerns about the length of the hunting season, the nature of the hunt and the appropriateness of hunting a species like wolves during both night and day for four months. He said the amendments were to address these concerns.
Clark offered an amendment that would have removed provisions of the bill allowing hunters to use dogs to hunt wolves.
“If you allow hunting of wolves with dogs, you’re declaring war between these species,” Clark said. “We will see a population of wolves that would become habituated to seeing dogs as the enemies and if we think that wolf-dog depredation is a problem now, it’s going [to be] a more chronic problem in the future if wolves learn to see dogs as the enemy.”
Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, also emphasized the dangers of hunting with dogs. He said hunters would have to use different dogs than those used to hunt bears.
“And unlike wolves, bears climb a tree, wolves just turn around and they will kill dogs,” Hulsey said.
Hulsey also supported an amendment that would have ended the season on Dec. 31 rather than the end of February, because wolves are often pregnant during late winter. Without the amendment, he said the bill would allow the hunting of pregnant wolves at night with dogs and “spotlights,” which he said was “unfair” for wolves.
Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, offered an amendment requiring hunters who kill wolves to eat them. She said the amendment would help aid in job creation for the state.
“What this amendment does is basically say, if you kill it you got to eat it,” Sinicki said. “That means that we’re going to have to have people who process the meat. There’s some jobs there. [They’re] going to have to have chefs that prepare that meat, too.”
Hunting groups and advocates for farmers lauded the passage of the bill.
Jeff Nass, spokesperson for Wisconsin Firearms Owners, Ranges, Clubs & Educators, a chartered organization for the National Rifle Association, said the bill would help the state manage the wolf population.
“We’re pleased that the bill passed,” Nass said. “It will give the [Department of Natural Resources] another tool to help manage the wolf population in Wisconsin.”
Karen Gefvert, director of governmental relations for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, said her organization supports managing the wolf population.
She said the DNR population goal was 250 wolves and the management goal was 350. However, she said the last DNR wolf count in 2010-11 found the state had more than 800 wolves.
“We have more than doubled the Wisconsin wolf population goals, and the DNR has been paying excessive damages to farmers with wolf damage,” Gefvert said.