A Dane County judge Friday temporarily halted the use of dogs during Wisconsin's inaugural wolf hunt, and the state Department of Natural Resources was scrambling to figure out whether the hunt would proceed.
The request for an injunction was sought by a group of Wisconsin humane societies, which argued that hunting wolves with dogs was likely to result in violent or fatal confrontations between animals because the agency did not write rules regulating either training dogs — when they can also encounter wolves — or hunting with them.
The coalition of humane societies is also asking that the DNR be ordered to write such rules. Dane County Circuit Judge Peter Anderson has yet to rule on that part of the lawsuit.
Anderson said in his ruling Friday that, despite his injunction, the DNR could move forward with a hunt that does not involve dogs. Whether that will happen remained unclear late Friday afternoon.
Cynthia Hirsch, a lawyer with the state Department of Justice representing the DNR, argued that prohibiting the use of dogs would put the agency in violation of the law passed by the state Legislature that required the agency to set up the hunt and prescribed many of the details, including the use of dogs.
And on Thursday, DNR officials said they would have to cancel the hunt if the judge issued an injunction because the agency would not have time to create regulations on the use of dogs before the Oct. 15 hunt begins. Wisconsin is the only state that has approved the use of dogs to hunt wolves.
Late Friday afternoon, however, the DNR issued a statement saying it was considering options that would allow the hunt to go on. Also, the agency announced that the deadline for applying for a wolf hunting permit has been extended until Sept. 7. The original deadline was Friday.
"Since the judge's ruling and the original application deadline happened to fall in the same day, Aug. 31, folks wouldn't have much time to react if they did in fact want to apply for a permit," said Kurth Thiede, DNR administrator of lands. "This extension gives them some breathing room to do that."
Through the end of the day Friday, the agency had received more than 18,000 applications. The original plan called for holding a drawing the first week of September to select and award 1,160 of the permits. The agency hopes to see 200 of the state's 800 wolves killed during the hunt.
Following the ruling, DNR spokesman Bill Cosh said the agency sould consult its attorneys and "assess all of our options."
Cosh cautioned that the injunction is temporary and suspends the use of dogs until the judge has made a final ruling in the case. Peterson said he intends to have the case resolved soon, perhaps before the hunt begins. He has scheduled a Sept. 14 hearing to consider a motion by the DNR that the case be dismissed.
Peterson suggested that the DNR could proceed with the hunt by preparing licenses with stickers that indicate the use of dogs during the hunt is prohibited. If he ultimately decides in favor of the agency, he said, the stickers could be removed.
In granting the injunction, Peterson cited testimony offered by a number of experts. They included Dick Thiel, a retired wolf biologist with the DNR, who said the unregulated use of dogs to chase down wolves would result in deadly fights between the animals.
Anderson acknowledged that possibility in granting the injunction. "There is a real risk of extremely vicious dog-wolf interactions, and for no real purpose," he said.
Also, Anderson said he disagreed with the DNR's argument that the wolf-hunting law passed by the state did not give the agency the authority to include regulations on the training and use of dogs during the hunt.