Facing lawsuits and defiance from the agency it oversees, Wisconsin’s Natural Resources policy board is exploring its next move on wolf hunting.
The board announced Thursday it will hold a remote, closed-session meeting Friday morning to confer with legal counsel about two pending court cases seeking to stop the hunt.
According to the meeting notice, “matters concerning natural resource issues or the Department’s program responsibilities or operations” may be added to the agenda up to two hours before the 8 a.m. meeting if board chair Fred Prehn “determines that the matter is urgent.”
The meeting comes just days after the DNR, in an unprecedented move, announced the quota for the Nov. 6 wolf hunting season would be less than half what the board approved in August.
Six Ojibwe tribes have sued the board in efforts to stop the fall hunt.
They say the board’s decision to approve a 300-wolf quota was a deliberate move to nullify the tribes’ share and accuse the DNR of ignoring “sound biological principles” and mismanaging natural resources in violation of 1837 and 1842 treaties with the U.S. government.
The DNR announced Monday that it had used its statutory authority to modify that quota to 130 — the number wildlife officials originally recommended — based on “the most reliable population modeling available” and a goal of maintaining a stable wolf population, according to a staff memo.
In accordance with treaty rights, state-licensed hunters will be allowed to kill 74 wolves; 56 will be allocated to the tribes, which have in past years chosen to preserve their share.
That did not mollify the tribes.
“The DNR still does not have a sound wolf population estimate, and any consideration of recreational hunting and trapping at this time is premature,” said Peter David, spokesperson for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission. “Immediately after wolves were removed from the endangered species list, Wisconsin conducted a brutal hunt in February during the wolves’ breeding season, and they must be given time to recover from that event.”
A coalition of conservation groups has also sued in state court to stop the hunt and void the 2011 law mandating a hunt from November through February whenever wolves are not on the endangered species list.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service removed them in January.
The DNR had been preparing to hold a hunt beginning in November 2021, but a Kansas-based hunter advocacy group sued, and a Jefferson County judge ordered the department to hold a season in the final days of February, later than any previously sanctioned hunt.
Prehn, a Wausau dentist appointed by former Gov. Scott Walker in 2015, is facing his own legal challenges over his refusal to step down after his term expired May 1, denying Gov. Tony Evers’ appointee Sandra Naas a seat and maintaining a 4-3 majority for Republican appointees.
Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul has asked the state Supreme Court to rule on his effort to remove Prehn from the board after a Dane County judge dismissed the case last month.
Kaul argues Prehn is “usurping a position of substantial authority” and “each day that passes inflicts further harm to the public, with the rightful board member currently barred from taking her seat.”
Prehn maintains that a 1964 Supreme Court ruling means he does not have to leave until Naas is confirmed by the Senate, but Republicans who control the chamber have made no move to set a hearing or answer questions on their plans to do so.
A DNR spokesperson said “relevant DNR legal counsel who are familiar with these cases will be available to answer questions” at Friday’s meeting.
Prehn canceled the board’s September meeting after a top DNR official told him no one from the agency would participate. DNR Deputy Secretary Todd Ambs sent Prehn an email stating there were no items for consideration at the board’s Sept. 22 meeting, therefore no one from the department would attend and the meeting should be canceled.