Wis. outdoorsmen vote: No dogs in wolf hunt

  • Article by: TODD RICHMOND
  • Associated Press
  • April 10, 2013 - 7:04 PM

MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin outdoor enthusiasts who attended the Conservation Congress' spring hearings narrowly voted to ban wolf hunters from using dogs while overwhelmingly approving tighter regulations governing the practice.

The congress is an influential group of sportsmen who advise the Department of Natural Resources on policy. Every year the congress holds statewide hearings and asks attendees to vote on a number of outdoor issues. The votes are advisory only.

The group held this year's hearings Monday. The ballot asked attendees if they would support legislation prohibiting dog use. Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, has introduced a bill that would impose a ban, but its prospects look bleak. Republicans who established the wolf hunt and allowed hunters to use dogs control both the state Senate and Assembly.

The ballot also asked attendees if they supported new regulations the DNR is preparing for wolf hunters who use dogs. The proposal would restrict training dogs on wolves to daylight hours during the wolf season and the month of March, require dogs to be tattooed or wear an identification collar and limit hunters to using six dogs at a time.

Attendees narrowly voted in support of legislation prohibiting the use of dogs on wolves, 2,631 to 2,494. They supported the regulatory changes by more than a 3-to-1 margin, 13,898 votes to 3,876, according to a tally by the DNR.

Larry Bonde, vice chairman of the congress, said Wednesday the results appear to have been driven by animal advocates who oppose the wolf hunt. He said the advocates' leaders rallied supporters and appeared to tell them to show up at the hearings and vote for a ban and the regulations.

"I do believe they had a significant impact," Bonde said. "We know for sure they made a very concerted effort moving their agenda forward."

DNR Lands Division Administrator Kurt Thiede declined to comment on the votes, saying the agency just got the results Tuesday.

The wolf hunt has been a flashpoint of contention since Republicans passed a law last year establishing the state's first organized season on the animals. Dogs' role in the hunt has been an especially thorny issue.

The law allows hunters to use up to six dogs to track wolves after the November gun deer season ends. The DNR adopted emergency rules last summer implementing the bill that set the statewide kill quota at 116 wolves and limited dog use to daylight hours.

A group of humane societies filed a lawsuit alleging the DNR failed to impose any real restrictions on dog training and use, setting up deadly dog-wolf fights in the woods in violation of the state's animal cruelty statutes. A Dane County judge issued a temporary injunction that blocked dog use during the season.

In January, the judge approved dog use during the hunt but barred training them on wolves. It turned out hunters didn't need dogs; the DNR closed the season two months early in December after hunters had killed 117 wolves, one more than their limit.

The DNR doesn't expect to implement the new rules until after they've studied data from two wolf hunts. The second season is set to begin this October.

The Conservation Congress is scheduled to adopt its official position on the wolf ballot questions at its statewide convention in mid-May. The congress will then present its stances to the Natural Resources Board, which sets DNR policy, at the board's May 22 meeting in Madison.

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