Monday, August 20, 2012

Wolf-attack reimbursements cost taxpayers $1.5 million

Aug 19, 2012   | 
This wolf was seen May 17 along a forest road just off County W, about halfway between Crooked Lake and Mountain.
This wolf was seen May 17 along a forest road just off County W, about halfway between Crooked Lake and Mountain. / Ray Vybiral/submitted

Wolf damage payments

Below is the amount of money paid from 1985 to June 2012 to owners whose animals were injured or killed by wolves.

Pet dogs$58,471.9982
Source: State Department of Natural ResourcesAbout the hunt, lawsuitWisconsin’s hunt is scheduled to begin Oct. 15 and run through February, depending on harvest.The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources estimates there are 815 to 880 wolves in the state. The DNR will allow a maximum of 201 wolves killed in the hunt and issue more than 2,000 permits in a lottery.Hunters are allowed to use bait, electronic calls and up to six dogs.A coalition of conservation groups and humane societies filed a lawsuit in Dane County court challenging the dog provision. It seeks to stop the hunt, or insert rules that require dogs be kept on a lead, disallow dogs from hunting in core wolf habitats, require training and certification for hound hunters and restrict a dog training season.
Wisconsin taxpayers have shelled out $1.5 million since 1985 to pay for damage inflicted by wolves on domestic animals in the state.

The payments came under a little-known program administered by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources that paid thousands for cattle, horses and pets that were eviscerated by the state’s growing wolf population.

What may come as a surprise is that taxpayers also paid $428,000 in reimbursements for hunting hounds devoured by wolves while tracking game like black bear and rabbits. The state paid $37,000 for 15 dogs killed last year, for instance.

That doesn’t sit well with a group of humane societies that want to shut down the state’s inaugural wolf hunt before it begins Oct. 15 because it allows hunters to use up to six dogs to track and trail wolves.

“We as taxpayers have been, and will be, on the hook for the human behavior of putting dogs in harm’s way in wolf territory,” said attorney Jodi Habush Sinykin, who is representing the group that filed the lawsuit in Dane County Court earlier this month.

As of June, the DNR had paid animal owners $214,794.16 this year for wolf kills, the most in state history, according to DNR records.

Last week, Habush Sinykin’s group filed supplemental information to make its case, including the number of wolf kills on dogs. Since 1985, 232 hunting hounds have been killed or injured by wolves, on top of 82 pet dogs who suffered gruesome encounters with their wild canine counterparts.

Funding for the reimbursement program will change with the controversial Act 169, which initiated this year’s hunt. Instead of taxpayer dollars, the money will come from application and license fees for the wolf hunt. As of Friday, the DNR already had received more than 11,000 applications at $10 each.

“This year the payments will also only be paid once per year, and will be prorated on the value of the loss and available funds,” said Bob Manwell, a DNR spokesman.

The funds previously came largely from general tax dollars, along with the optional endangered species check-off on tax returns and the wolf license plates issued by the Division of Motor Vehicles.

'Swift and furious'

The lawsuit hoping to end the hunt uses narratives of “swift and furious” wolf attacks on dogs that were hunting for other game.

That puts avid hunters like Andy Hemp, of Neillsville, in an ironic position. He has applied for a wolf permit and intends to use his hounds. But his story, and $5,000 reimbursement, is being used to argue against the hunt.

In 2008, he was hunting black bear near Round Lake in Sawyer County with his treeing hounds.
He remembers his dogs barking to indicate they had treed a bear right before they were attacked by wolves.

By the time Hemp made his way to the site — less than two minutes — two of his beloved hounds, Betty and Shelby, were dead.

Shocking photos and accounts by the DNR show the remains of the dogs: just heads, spinal columns and tails.

“It was like someone dumped a five-gallon bucket of blood on the ground,” Hemp said. “They had my dogs stripped right down to the backbone. There was no meat, no hide. It was like the perfect butcher had butchered an animal. The ribs were gone off the ribcage.

“I thought, ‘How could this happen so quickly?’”

Hemp stood over his dead dogs and protected the others in the party, but said he could hear the wolves circling him in the woods.

A DNR warden confirmed the wolf kill, and Hemp was paid $2,500 each — the maximum — for each of the dead hunting dogs. He defended the program as a price paid to hunters by non-hunters who enjoyed watching the wolf population rebound.

Unknown effect of hunt

Many hunters, like Hemp, think the hunt this year will reduce the number of wolf kills on dogs and other domestic animals. They say the wolves will learn to fear the dogs if they are used in the hunt.
DNR Wildlife Damage Specialist Brad Koele said he expects attacks to go down with the hunt. The DNR also can issue permits to individual landowners to kill problem wolves.

He doesn’t anticipate problems with using dogs in the wolf hunt.

“It’s that hunter’s responsibility to take on that risk,” Koele said.

Koele pointed out the DNR will not reimburse hunters for hounds killed while wolf hunting, but critics say hunters will easily be able to claim they were hunting for another species, like coyote.
Wisconsin is poised to issue 2,010 permits this fall with a cap of 201 wolves harvested. Permit applications will be accepted until Aug. 31.

Neighboring Minnesota is home to more than 3,000 wolves, the largest population in the Lower 48. Minnesota also instituted a hunt this year, aiming to harvest 400 wolves.

They decided against using hounds, which aren’t allowed for bear, either, unlike in Wisconsin.
“There just isn’t the same hound hunting tradition in Minnesota, so it wasn’t as much of an issue,” said Chris Niskanen, spokesman for the Minnesota DNR.

Wisconsin will become the only state in the nation to allow the use of hunting hounds for wolves if the challenge fails.

The lawsuit will be heard Aug. 29 by a Dane County judge.