Sunday, May 27, 2012

Politics and wolves and a hunt in search of reason

Seely on Science

May 25, 2012
It was a foregone conclusion that the Natural Resources Board last week was going to approve beginning the process that will end, sometime in mid-October, with a rifle shot and a recreational hunter legally killing a wolf in Wisconsin for the first time in many years.
The board, which sets policy for the state Department of Natural Resources, was bound by action in the state Legislature that mandated such a hunt.

What was perhaps less apparent to those not at the board meeting was the discomfort of some board members with the hand they had been dealt by the Legislature and the politicians who cooked up most of the details of the hunt -- details the Natural Resourcs Board has to live with.

Under questioning by board member Christine Thomas, a professor and dean of resource management at UW-Stevens Point, an uncomfortable Kurt Thiede, agency administrator of land, admitted that the agency has a fairly limited role in setting up the hunt.

Set in stone by legislative action and not subject to change by the DNR are some of the most controversial -- even among noted wolf biologists -- details of how wolves will be killed. These include the five-month season (extending into breeding season), the use of bait, night hunting, the use of dogs, and trapping.

"The board has a limited role here," said Chairman Dave Clausen. "This is pretty much the Legislature's bill. The Legislature is driving this thing completely. They are in the driver's seat on this."

Thiede said the agency does retain control over some of the most crucial aspects  of the hunt, especially how many wolves will be killed and in what areas. Just as important, he said, the agency has the ability to halt the hunt if it appears too many wolves are being killed in certain zones.
But, as UW-Madison predator expert Adrian Treves pointed out in testimony to the board, the mechanics of the hunt mandated by the state Legislature (largely at the behest and lobbying pressure of bear and other hunting groups), are the very things that could lead to a hunt that threatens the wolf population and possibly sends the animal back to the endangered species list.

Despite the claim of wolf hunting proponents that politicians heeded the advice of scientists in putting together the wolf hunting plan, there seems scant evidence that that is truly the case. Most suspicious is the complete absence of the DNR's leading wolf authority, Adrian Wydeven, from any of the legislative hearings. Nor was he at the Wednesday board meeting.

So, as was clear from the comments of some board members Wednesday, the result is this: The state's leading natural resource science agency will rush to patch together a hunting season on an animal it has worked so hard to restore and protect, forced to allow the use of hunting techniqes, such as baiting and night hunting, that even experts say are questionable and not befitting the fair pursuit of such a noble creature.