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360: The differing perspectives on Wisconsin's wolf hunt

Posted: 5:21 AM, Feb 23, 2021
Updated: 2021-02-23 08:10:40-05

MILWAUKEE — A wolf hunt in Wisconsin, when allowed, runs November through February. When federal wildlife officials removed the wolf from the endangered species list this year, Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) began planning to host a hunt starting November 2021.

However, a lawsuit was filed and a Jefferson County judge stepped in and ordered the hunt to begin immediately, which is why there is a one-week-long wolf hunt happening now.

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When former-president Trump's administration delisted the wolf, and the hunt did not immediately begin, the organization Hunter Nation filed a lawsuit.

Despite the DNR's efforts to request a stay after the judge's order, the hunt had to begin.

During a public meeting, the administrator of fish, wildlife, and parks for Wisconsin's DNR was asked if the wolf hunt was rushed or if any "corners were cut" in the planning of the wolf hunt.

"Was there more we would like to do? Yes. Are we confident and comfortable with the quota recommendation being made? I think we would’ve been more comfortable had we taken more time," said Keith Warnke, Wisconsin DNR Administrator of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

A harvest quota of 200 wolves has been set. 4,000 permits have been allotted and those in favor of the hunt are already hunting. Those against it the hunt are livid.

To understand each side of the argument, TMJ4 News is going 360.

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Talking to an indigenous environmental activist, to the executive director of the organization Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf and Wildlife, to a Wisconsin farmer who says wolves have proven their ability to kill his livelihood and to the President and CEO of Hunter Nation, who helped fund the fight to hold this week's wolf hunt. That's where we start.

State law is very clear. Once the wolf is removed from federal protection, we have the ability to move forward and it says shall in the law, not may, shall have a hunt in Wisconsin from the months of November to February.
Luke Hilgemann, President and CEO of Hunter Nation.

Hunter Nation filed a lawsuit after lobbying with lawmakers for a wolf hunt to begin immediately after it became legal.

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The DNR, for purposes of research, was working to organize the hunt to begin in November but Hilgemann believes the DNR had plenty of time to see this change coming and plan for a hunt. He says wolves are a threat to livestock, pets and are a threat that must be managed in the badger state and he said the traditions of hunting must also be protected.

"We need to have a responsible management system, we believe that hunters play a responsible and important role in that management, and we look forward to getting out there and hunting these animals just like we do with many others very soon," said Hilgemann.

Ryan Klussendorf is a dairy farmer in Medford Wisconsin. He said in the past, wolves have killed his cows and have become a threat to public safety. That's why he says he also is in favor of the hunt.

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"It does close to home for us. We’ve had a deprivation in the past. And have felt with wolf harassment. They chase our cattle out on the highways," said Klussendorf.

He said the hunt is not about eliminating the wolf. It's about population control.

Right now, the state of Wisconsin estimates there are than 1,100 wolves in the state, far above the management plan of 350.

"Myself and I know other farmers as well, we don’t want to see wolves eradicated. We want to see them be able to be managed and put boundaries back into place because they’re not showing fear anymore," said Klussendorf.

But, to Melissa Smith, Executive Director of Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf and Wildlife, the hunt seems rushed and political. She said it is being led by Republicans after former-President Trump's administration delisted the wolf from the endangered species list just before his term as president ended.

This is truly ‘let's get in and slaughter and kill as many of these animals as we can because we know that delisting was illegal and we know that Biden administration is going to re-list the wolf.'
Melissa Smith

She and many other animal conservationists nationwide believe that the Trump administration delisted the wolf before the endangered animal fully recovered from being nearly extinct.

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She feels there hasn't been a sufficient amount of public input considered when the court ordered the hunt to begin this week.

"This isn’t based on science at all. And we trust the DNR and we trust the natural resource board to make decisions about wildlife management using science and this is one of the cases where this is completely politically driven and not driven by best available science or even what the public wants," Smith said.

To Paul DeMain, known to many by his tribal name Skabews, the hunt is offensive.

He says to indigenous people, wolves are sacred. He describes the relationship as a brotherhood. He argues outside money and politics should not dictate how the state researches and organizes a hunt.

Coming into Wisconsin and telling us how to run our wolf hunt is kind of like asking Texas how to run our snow removal process.
Paul DeMain

He believes many native tribes are not done putting up a fight against this year's hunt. He said he would not be surprised to see indigenous people buying up some of the 4,000 permits as a form of protest or in the woods making noise to warn the wolves of danger.

"This is such a rushed decision and there’s no reason to stay it off for at least one more year. There’s no reason at all except for there are people who are bloodthirsty for a nice trophy on the wall," said DeMain.

The wolf hunt begins on Feb.22 and runs through Feb. 28.

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