Wis. judge allows wolf hunting with dogs
- Article by: TODD RICHMOND
- Associated Press
- January 5, 2013 - 10:23 AM
MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin hunters can chase down wolves with dogs during the state season but cannot train them to pursue the animals during the rest of the year, a judge ruled Friday in a victory for animal advocates.
The double-sided decision stems from a lawsuit that a group of humane societies filed last summer against the state Department of Natural Resources. The group alleged the agency failed to place any real restrictions on how wolf hunters can use dogs.
Anderson temporarily banned the use of dogs while he weighed the case. On Friday, he issued a final ruling that found the DNR had no obligation to impose restrictions on using dogs to hunt wolves. But he said the agency should have revised pre-existing rules that allow people to train dogs on wild animals to account for the "serious risk" training for wolves poses. Without those tweaks the rule cannot apply to wolves, the judge said.
"When I eat a piece of marble cake I could eat the whole thing, but I'm satisfied with one piece," Carl Sinderbrand, one of the humane societies' attorneys, said after the ruling.
DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp said in a three-sentence statement the agency was pleased the judge chose to allow dogs in the hunt but was disappointed with the training prohibition.
State lawmakers passed a bill last year establishing Wisconsin's first organized wolf hunt. The measure scheduled the season to run from Oct. 15 to the end of February or whenever hunters reached a DNR-imposed kill limit. The bill allowed hunters to pursue wolves with up to six dogs after the end of the gun deer season.
Emergency rules the DNR adopted to create the hunt limited dog use to daylight hours but established no other use restrictions. DNR attorneys contended the agency had to adhere strictly to the provisions in the bill and had no authority to impose any tighter restrictions.
The humane societies filed a lawsuit in August alleging the lack of restrictions on hunting use and training would lead to deadly dog-wolf clashes in the woods year-round, forcing the societies to care for injured dogs and wolves and putting wolf watchers in danger.
Anderson issued a temporary injunction banning hunters from using dogs in the hunt or training them on wolves weeks after the suit was filed.
It turned out hunters hardly needed dogs. The DNR shut down the hunt last month after hunters took 117 wolves, one more than the total kill quota. Meanwhile, the DNR has drafted permanent rules that allow hunters to train dogs on wolves during in-season daylight hours and the month of March. Each dog also would have to be tattooed or wear a collar with its owner's name and address.
The agency doesn't expect to implement the rules until 2014, though. The humane societies say that's not good enough.
Assistant Attorney General Tom Dawson, who is representing the DNR in the case, argued agency rules allow anyone to train a dog on wild animals as long as the dogs don't kill the animal during the training. He maintained those rules allow unrestricted use on wolves.
Trying to show the DNR's board did seriously consider whether to impose restrictions, he noted the board met in September after Anderson issued his injunction and listened to public testimony. The board ultimately decided to do nothing, though, concluding it had no authority.
The Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, the United Sportsmen of Wisconsin and the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance Foundation have joined the DNR as defendants in the lawsuit. The attorney for the groups, Jim Lister, told Anderson he could solve the issue by simply allowing DNR wardens to ticket hunters who allow their dogs to attack a wolf.
Sinderbrand countered it was absurd to think the DNR had to model its rules to the letter of the wolf hunt bill and the agency never considered scientific testimony about the dangers of wolf-dog encounters.
Anderson admonished the DNR's board for concluding it had no authority to expand the dog rules, pointing out he had ruled before the meeting the board did indeed have the power.
The board had an obligation to adjust existing training rules for wild animals since they don't take wolves or the danger they pose to hounds into account, the judge said. DNR officials instead bowed to political pressure to allow unrestricted use, he said.
None of the evidence shows a safe way to train on wolves without restrictions, he said, adding that relying on hunters to do the right thing isn't enough. He concluded the rules as they stand don't justify unrestricted training on wolves and declared the regulations invalid as applied to wolves.
As for restrictions on dog use in the actual hunt, though, Anderson said the DNR had the authority but no obligation to set any. He said he cannot address rules that don't exist.
He also took a swipe at the DNR and legislators, saying a lot of people think using dogs to hunt wolves is "nuts" but that the agency and lawmakers still found a way to please a handful of dog owners.
"My hat is off to you," he said. "You've manipulated the system in a way that has gotten success for you."
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