Democratic lawmakers have drafted legislation to end Wisconsin’s mandatory wolf hunting season.
By changing a single word in state statutes — from “shall” to “may” — the bill would give the Department of Natural Resources discretion over whether to hold a hunt.
The bill is being circulated for co-sponsors as the DNR prepares for a fall hunt while still attempting to assess the impact of a court-ordered February season in which hunters killed nearly twice the state’s allotted number of wolves.
“The DNR should have discretion over whether to hold a hunt so that our state can make scientifically informed decisions about wildlife management, uphold our responsibilities to consult with sovereign tribal governments, and take the considerations of the public into account before hunts are held,” sponsors Sen. Tim Carpenter, of Milwaukee, and Rep. Jodi Emerson, of Eau Claire, wrote in a memo to other lawmakers.
Megan Nicholson, state director for the Humane Society of the United States, said the bill could spare hundreds of wolves each year from “painful and terrifying deaths by trophy hunters.”
“Wisconsin is the only state that mandates a wolf hunt, and while this legislation will not put a definitive end to wolf trophy hunting, it provides a glimmer of hope and is a necessary first step in protecting these highly social animals from the wanton cruelty we saw last February,” Nicholson said in a statement.
Last month a coalition of wildlife conservation groups sued the DNR in an effort to block the fall hunt and overturn the law that requires it.
A law passed in 2011 requires the state to allow hunting from November through February whenever the gray wolf is not on the federal endangered species list.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service removed gray wolves from the list in January.
The DNR was preparing to hold a hunt beginning in November 2021, but a 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.
Hunters killed 218 in just three days, blowing past the state’s quota of 119. The DNR estimates another 33 were killed last year by vehicles, depredation control or poaching, though UW-Madison researchers estimate humans killed far more.
DNR scientists say the unusual timing of the winter hunt, which overlapped with breeding season, made it difficult to understand the long-term impacts on the population, which was estimated to be about 1,034 wolves as of spring 2020.