However, Judge Peter Anderson's ruling would allow dogs to hunt wolves.
"There is no evidence that there is a safe way to undertake training of dogs to hunt wolves," Anderson said. "The agency had authority to put in place rules, but it failed to act."
Anderson's specific ruling was that NR 17.4 was "invalid" with regard to wolves. The section of Wisconsin Administrative Code was written before wolves were a game species in the state, and includes no language about wolves.
"It is not sufficient for the agency to disregard all the evidence on this issue," Anderson said. "Or more specifically, to do nothing."
The ruling was met with mixed emotions by both the plaintiffs and defendants.
The lawsuit was brought by animal welfare groups and individuals who claimed the state had insufficient rules to protect dogs. The defendants were the Department of Natural Resources and the Natural Resources Board.
A wolf hunting and trapping season was authorized in Wisconsin by Act 169. The legislation, passed last April, allowed wolf hunting with dogs, as well as tracking and training dogs on wolves. Wisconsin is the only state to authorize the use of dogs to hunt wolves.
The legislation included few restrictions on wolf hunting or training with dogs.
While DNR officials claimed their hands were tied by the legislation, the judge repeatedly stated the DNR and NRB had authority to put additional restrictions in place.
"The court took the DNR to task for what amounted to bad policy and bad decision-making couched behind poor process," said Jodi Habush-Sinykin, an attorney for the plaintiffs.
The defendents were pleased, however, that the judge dissolved a temporary injunction that prohibited the use of dogs to hunt wolves.
Although the Wisconsin wolf hunting season ended when harvest quotas were reached in December, the ruling would allow hunters to use dogs to hunt wolves next season, said DNR attorney Tim Andryk.
The DNR is in the midst of creating a permanent rule for wolf hunting and trapping in the state, as well as revising its wolf management plan.
Andryk said it was premature to say how the judge's ruling might affect either. Both the permanent rule and the wolf plan are expected to be finalized in 2014.
Carl Sinderbrand, attorney for the plaintiffs, said the overall effect of the ruling was favorable for those seeking additional protections for dogs and wolves. Without the judge's ruling, dogs could have been used to track or trail wolves immediately.
Wolves killed a hunting hound as recently as last week in Jackson County.
"In the bigger picture, this case has helped people see if the DNR uses science to make decisions or whether they base them on political pressure," Sinderbrand said.
Sinderbrand said it was possible a bill would be introduced this session to modify portions of Act 169, including the use of dogs to hunt wolves. The 2013 wolf hunting and trapping season is scheduled to start Oct. 15.
Judge Peterson said he would issue a written version of his ruling next week.