Wolf hunting returns to Wisconsin: But how humane will it be?
Wisconsin will open its first wolf-hunting season in decades Monday – a testament to the recovery of the Midwestern population. But native American groups are opposed and controversy still swirls about the use of dogs.
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“We all agree that there can be an appropriate wolf hunt,” says Jodi Habush Sinykin, a lawyer representing the hunt’s critics. “The important consideration is that it must take into account sound science and proper management.”Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Can there be peace in the Wolf Wars?
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Dogs are not allowed for wolf hunting elsewhere in the United States. But many hunters in Wisconsin use dogs in pursuit of other game, especially bears. Mr. Lobner, an official with the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, says he hopes to use his trained coonhounds to track wolves. He discounts the possibility that the dogs could get hurt.
“We’ve on occasion been hunting bears and coyotes, and when you run into a wolf, it just runs,” he says.
Kurt Thiede, DNR lands division administrator, has issued a statement in support of the use of dogs: “We ... have learned from other states that harvesting a wolf can be difficult. The use of dogs is a key way to increase hunter success. We will continue to work with the court to remove the injunction on the use of dogs....”
Some people with long experience in the Wisconsin woods suggest that few wolf hunters and trappers are likely to succeed in capturing so elusive a quarry – especially without dogs to help. Dave Louis, a trapper in Rice Lake, Wis., recently held a class for new trappers and was surprised to find that eight of the beginners had wolf permits.
“I didn’t want to dishearten them,” he says, “but this is not something where you can go up to your cottage on Friday night and trap a wolf.”
Meanwhile, many native American groups in Wisconsin disapprove of the hunt altogether. The wolf enjoys an exalted place in tribes' cultural and religious traditions, says Chris McGeshick, a member of the Sokaogon Chippewa Community and its representative on an intertribal commission that oversees treaty rights. “Essentially it’s your brother,” he says. “We’re just not going to shoot our brother.”
The state has reserved a third of its quota for native Americans, but the state’s tribes say they will not use it. Mr. McGeshick says members of his community are “outraged” about the hunt. "They can’t believe that there’s nothing we can say or do to get the state to change its mind,” he says.
An intertribal organization representing Ojibwe tribes with reservations in Wisconsin have turned to treaties dating to 1847 to try to stop any taking of wolves in the northern part of the state. The state has denied their request, although reservations will be off-limits to hunters. On Friday the tribes sent a letter to the state outlining their concern about a rule that allows wolves to be killed if they are a danger to livestock; 67 have been killed this year
McGeshick says the wolf has acquired heightened significance for tribes because its fate has so closely mirrored their own. “As the wolf disappeared ... we were diminishing, being put on reservations,” he says. “Now that they are coming back, we as tribal communities are getting stronger.”
The debate over the hunt in Wisconsin has been heated both on and off reservations. “It might as well be Packer and Bears fans here,” says Jim Zorn, executive secretary of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, a group based in Odanah, Wis. “There’s no common ground.”
The Wisconsin DNR estimates that the state had between 3,000 and 5,000 wolves in the 19th century and could support 700 to 1,000 today. But it notes that “this level may not be socially tolerated” and has set a goal of 350 outside the state’s reservations – fewer than half the present population.
David Mech, a wolf expert with the US Geological Survey office in St. Paul, Minn., says that wolves are likely to continue expanding in the Midwest, although it becomes more difficult for them as they reach more populated areas. He doubts that Wisconsin’s hunt will curtail their numbers.
“The total number of wolves taken will easily be made up for by the reproduction next spring,” he says.