Judge refuses to dismiss Wis. wolf hunt challenge

Wolf in woods
A wolf walks in the woods near the Echo Trail about 20 miles northwest of Ely, Minn.
Steve Foss for MPR

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A judge refused Friday to throw out a lawsuit challenging the use of dogs in this winter's wolf hunt, marking another victory for a group of humane societies working to reduce the chances of deadly dog-wolf encounters in the woods.

The group filed a lawsuit last month alleging Department of Natural Resources rules enacting the hunt don't include any restrictions on dog training or use in hunting, creating the potential for bloody dog-wolf fights. DNR attorneys asked Dane County Circuit Judge Peter C. Anderson to toss the lawsuit, arguing the agency didn't have the authority to impose restrictions and the lack of regulations doesn't harm the humane societies.

But Anderson said the lawsuit can proceed. The judge said DNR officials incorrectly assumed they lacked the power to impose restrictions and he agreed with the humane societies' argument that they will have to spend more resources caring for injured dogs and wolves and unfettered dog use will put wolf trackers in danger.

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"These are more than trifling injuries," Anderson said.

The wolf hunt is slated to begin Oct. 15 and run through the end of February. More than 20,000 people applied for a permit; the DNR this week made 1,160 applicants chosen through a lottery eligible for a permit.

The hunt has left animal lovers outraged. The Republican-authored bill creating the hunt pulls out all the stops on wolves, allowing hunters to put out bait, trap, hunt at night and use dogs. The law says hunters can use up to six dogs to track or trail wolves after the November gun deer season ends but imposes no other limitations.

Wolf after kill
A wolf hustles away from a freshly killed carcass with a leg section. Not all prey are fully consumed at the kill site.
Steve Foss for MPR

The DNR drew up emergency rules setting up the details of the hunt. The regulations don't include any restrictions on dog training and hunting use, allowing hunters to train their animals on wolves year-round and send them after wolves without any controls such as a leash during the hunt. The humane societies maintain the lack of regulations is a recipe for carnage.

DNR attorneys have argued both that the agency had the discretion to leave out dog requirements and it didn't have authority to impose any. They say the rules reflect the law to the letter.

"We don't know of a case of an agency abusing its discretion by failing to exercise it," said Thomas Dawson, an assistant attorney general representing the DNR.

Carl Sinderbrand, one of humane societies' attorneys, maintained the DNR didn't meet its obligations to carry out the wolf hunt because it didn't ensure the use of dogs wouldn't violate the state's animal cruelty statutes.

Anderson said DNR officials wrongly thought they lacked the authority to go beyond the law's parameters. He said he believes the Legislature intended for the DNR to use its expertise when crafting the rules and the agency had an obligation to at least address the possibility of dog restrictions.

The DNR also argued the humane societies haven't shown they would suffer any direct injuries, calling their arguments about spending additional resources and endangered wolf trackers speculative in court filings. Anderson said the humane societies had established they will suffer an injury and they have a stake in the hunt.

Anderson's decision represents the second defeat for the DNR in as many weeks. On Aug. 31, he issued an injunction barring hunters from training dogs on wolves and using them in the hunt while he weighs the humane societies' lawsuit.

DNR officials plan to ask the agency's board at its Sept. 26 meeting for permission to draft permanent rules on training dogs for wolf hunting, said DNR Lands Division Administrator Kurt Thiede. Those rules wouldn't be in place for the upcoming hunt and would likely take effect next year.

The agency, however, may ask the board for permission to implement training restrictions on an emergency basis this year in hopes of convincing Anderson to lift his injunction, Thiede said.