Sunday, September 16, 2012

Judge puts hold on Wisconsin’s plans to hunt wolves with dogs

Has a bloodfest been averted?

Madison. Plans to allow wolves to be hunted with dogs, as part of Wisconsin ‘s first wolf hunt, have been at least temporarily set aside by the ruling of Dane County Circuit Judge Peter Anderson.
No other state has permitted dog hunting of wolves, but the Wisconsin legislature directly inserted the provision when the wolf lost endangered species status in Wisconsin this year. Wisconsin’s’ planned wolf hunt has been controversial, but its quota of 200 dead wolves out of 800 or so in the state is moderate compared to Idaho and Montana’s hunts. Idaho has a year round hunt in at least some part of the state with no overall quota. Montana has a more limited season, but is otherwise similar. Dogs hunting wolves, however, is unique, and the Republican bill for the wolf hunt in general shows a lot of hostility to wolves and no notion of fair chase, e.g., hunters can bait, trap, hunt at night as well as use dogs.

The legislature’s plan raised immediate anger from dog organizations, animal welfare groups and wolf conservationists. They went to court seeking to halt that part of the hunt. The state’s Department of Natural Resources imposed almost no restrictions how the wolves would be hunted with  dogs, citing the legislature’s mandate to have this kind of hunt. The law allows use of from one to six dogs to track wolves after the deer rifle season ends (November). That is the sum of limitations from the legislation. DNR argued this prevented them from adding any regulations, but Judge Peter Anderson judge ruled, no. The DNR also argued the plaintiffs had no standing to sue, but the judge rejected  that argument too. The Humane Society argued the DNR could not allow violation of Wisconsin’s animal cruelty law, and by having a regulation free hunt using dogs would violate the law.

Anderson  has now ruled twice against the DNR, stopping the dog/wolf hunting until more regulations are devised. For example, questions such as the following are important.  Can any kind or number of dogs be used?  Will the dogs be permitted to kill the wolf or wolves, or are they strictly limited to tracking? What kind of medical attention does the dog owner owe wounded dogs? What is the liability for a wounded wolf that attacks domestic animals or people?  Do the dogs have to be trained in any way?

Historically wolves have been hunted for sport by a few specially bred dogs such as the Irish and the Russian wolfhound. The Irish wolfhound, a gentle dog, unless trained otherwise, is the world’s tallest dog, standing up to 7 feet high on its hind legs.  They are very loyal and affectionate pets, though very short lived.

Opponents of the hunt argued that the DNR’s plan was a “recipe for carnage.” In the backcountry of Idaho, Montana,Wyoming and the Great Lakes states, non-livestock related wolf-dog confrontations almost always end up with same way — a dead dog. There have been many interactions and dead dogs, although trained sheep guard dogs do survive wolf attacks and often drive the wolves from the sheep.

Supporters for the hunt said they would use the dogs to find lone wolves, not packs. It isn’t clear how this could be done with any reliability because tracking wolves by scent is as likely to find a pack as a lone wolf. It is also not clear how they would get dogs to track wolves at all because dogs have a natural fear of wolves.

A leading proponent of the hunt said wolves were the only possible effective way to hunt wolves. This is obviously untrue. Many hundreds of wolves have been killed in the Idaho and Montana wolf hunts.

Hunt supporters said they would use the dogs in conjunction with ATVs to corral the lone wolves.
Plaintiffs are the Wisconsin Federated Humane Societies, Dane County Humane Society, Wisconsin Humane Society, Fox Valley Humane Association, Northwood Alliance, National Wolfwatcher Coalition, Jayne and Michael Belsky and Donna Onstott.