Hunting group sues to force Wisconsin wolf season

A national hunting group filed a lawsuit Tuesday to force an immediate start to Wisconsin’s wolf season before President Joe Biden’s administration restores federal protections for the animals.

The Trump administration removed Great Lakes wolves from the federal endangered species list last month, handing management rights to the states. Wisconsin law requires the Department of Natural Resources to hold a wolf hunt between November and February; the agency is planning a season that will begin in November.

A group of Republican legislators demanded the DNR started the hunt immediately before the season window closes at the end of February, but the department’s board refused last week amid concerns that that Wisconsin’s Chippewa tribes haven’t been consulted as required by treaty agreements. The Chippewa consider the wolf sacred and are opposed to hunting it.

Kansas-based Hunter Nation Inc.’s lawsuit makes no mention of the treaty requirements. The group argues that the DNR must start the hunt immediately because wolves could regain federal protection any moment. The lawsuit notes Biden signed an executive order on Jan. 21 requiring agency heads to review all existing regulations, orders, and policies that impede “environmental justice,” including the decision to delist wolves.

“In other words, there is a substantial possibility that Wisconsinites’ time to hunt wolves is limited,” the lawsuit said.

DNR officials contend they need time to study the wolf population to determine sustainable harvest quotas, but Hunter Nation maintains that will only cost taxpayers money and the wolf population has clearly surpassed the state’s goal of 350 animals. The latest DNR estimates put the population at around 1,000 animals.

The lawsuit accused the DNR, its board, and Secretary Preston Cole of violating statutes requiring them to implement a hunt.

“They possess no discretion to simply wait until the next season comes around,” the lawsuit said.

Asked about the Chippewa consultation requirements, Hunter Nation’s attorney, Anthony LoCoco of the conservative law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, said the DNR could have spoken with the tribes about reinstating a wolf season months ago and hasn’t explained why it can’t consult with them now to clear the way for an immediate hunt.

DNR spokeswoman Sarah Hoye declined to comment on the lawsuit. She reiterated that the wolf season remains on track to start in November and that the department needs time to develop a science-based harvest quota and “engage the public and tribal partners in the development of a season plan that adequately reflects the interests of diverse stakeholders throughout Wisconsin.”

The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, which represents 11 Chippewa tribes in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, issued a statement saying rushing a hunt would deny the tribes’ proper consultation. The commission added that it is concerned about implementing a hunt now because wolves are entering their mating season and are extremely vulnerable.