A Jefferson County judge says the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources violated state law by not immediately scheduling a wolf hunting season after federal protections were removed in February.
In an order issued Thursday, Circuit Court Judge Bennett J. Brantmeier also said the agency must hold a hunt immediately any time federal protections are lifted during the statutory hunting season, which runs from November through February.
The injunction was issued in response to a lawsuit brought by Hunter Nation Inc. that challenged the agency’s decision not to hold a hunt as soon as the wolf was removed from the endangered species list in January.
Luke Hilgemann, president of the Kansas-based advocacy group, hailed the decision as “one of the most important legal victories ever” for hunters.
“Today’s historic ruling solidifies Wisconsin’s constitutional right to hunt and our statutory wolf hunt requirements,” Hilgemann said in a statement.
However, a separate court injunction has put the current wolf season on hold while a Dane County judge considers a lawsuit filed in August by a coalition of wildlife advocacy groups seeking to stop the hunt and invalidate the law requiring it.
In a ruling last month, Judge Jacob Frost said the law creating the wolf season is constitutional, but the DNR failed to create permanent regulations enacting it.
The law gives the DNR leeway in setting kill limits, hunting zone hours and the number of licenses, making it all the more important that the department follow the regulatory process to ensure it doesn’t violate the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches, Frost said.
Frost said his injunction will remain in place until the DNR implements updated regulations on determining quotas and the number of licenses it issues and updates its wolf management plan with new wolf population goals for the state.
It’s not clear how long that will take. The DNR announced in October that it would not issue licenses for the fall season.
A DNR spokesperson had not responded to a request for comment Thursday on the Jefferson County ruling.
Brantmeier is the same judge who last winter ordered the DNR to hold a hunt in the final days of February, later than any previously sanctioned hunt. State-licensed hunters killed at least 218 wolves in less than three days, more than the state and tribal quotas combined.
That hunt spurred a challenge from six Native American tribes that have sued in federal court to block the hunt, accusing the DNR of violating treaty rights and endangering an animal they consider sacred.
Chief U.S. District Judge James Peterson last month declined to issue an injunction but said he had “deep misgivings” about state rules that failed to keep February’s wolf kill under the quota.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.