The head of a Kansas-based hunting organization is suing the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for not allowing people to hunt wolves this winter.
Luke Hilgemann, of Marshfield, says the agency is violating his and other would-be hunters’ constitutional rights by refusing to immediately establish a wolf hunting and trapping season after federal protections were lifted last month.
Hilgemann, president of Hunter Nation Inc., argues the DNR’s inaction has also deprived him of income. The suit asks the court to order the agency to immediately allow hunting and trapping of wolves.
The DNR’s policy board voted 4-3 last month against opening the season by Feb. 10 amid concerns that the department had not consulted tribal nations as required by treaties and did not have time to set quotas.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service removed gray wolves from the endangered species list on Jan. 4, returning management authority to the lower 48 states and Native American tribes. A 2012 state law requires the DNR to allow wolf trapping and hunting from November through February if wolves are not listed as endangered.
The suit, filed Tuesday in Jefferson County Circuit Court by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, says the law is unambiguous.
“The Wisconsin DNR does not have the discretion to determine whether to follow state law when it comes to scheduling a gray wolf hunt,” said the group’s deputy counsel, Anthony LoCoco. “WILL intends to hold Wisconsin’s administrative agencies accountable until this pattern of ignoring state law ends.”
Hilgemann accused Gov. Tony Evers and his administration of “playing politics and intentionally delaying the wolf harvest to give radical anti-hunting groups time to block the delisting and stop a hunt altogether.”
The complaint notes that a Jan. 20 executive order by President Joe Biden directs federal agencies to review all regulations and guidance issued during the previous administration to ensure they are guided by the “best science,” protect health and the environment, and align with other administration policy goals.
“In other words, there is a substantial possibility that Wisconsinites’ time to hunt wolves is limited,” the complaint states.
DNR spokeswoman Sarah Hoye said the agency “will be reviewing the complaint” and is taking steps to implement a wolf hunt in November.
“Implementing a wolf season requires adequate time not only to develop a science-based harvest quota but also to engage the public and tribal partners in the development of a season plan that adequately reflects the interests of diverse stakeholders throughout Wisconsin,” Hoye said.
Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf and Wildlife condemned the lawsuit as the work of an “out-of-state-based group of well-known far-right extremists.”
Hilgemann, the former executive director of the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, sued the DNR in June when the agency suspended in-person hunter safety training because of the COVID-19 pandemic but dropped the case after classes resumed.
The wolf hunt has been a contentious issue for years. Those who favor hunting say the animals kill livestock and pets and terrorize rural residents, while wildlife supporters say the creatures are too beautiful to kill, and Native American tribes consider them sacred.
Dozens of people testified on both sides at the Natural Resources Board’s meeting, and the board received more than 1,400 written comments on the proposed hunt.
Wisconsin last held a wolf hunt in 2014, but the law allows people to shoot wolves if there is an immediate threat to human safety or if wolves are attacking domestic animals on private land.
The DNR estimates Wisconsin is home to at least 1,034 wolves in 256 packs, primarily across the northern third of the state and the Central Forest region, up from 815 in 2012.
The agency reported 152 animals, including livestock and hunting dogs, were killed or injured last year by wolves and has paid out $1.8 million over the past decade in wolf depredation payments.
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