Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Lands Division Administrator Kurt Thiede indicated there is a lot to do and watch for following the state’s first modern wolf season – permanent rules, for instance.
It’s a process that could take a while.
“As far as the wolf rules go ... we’ve already been to our Natural Resources Board with a request to go out to public hearing with new, or basically permanent, wolf rules,” Thiede said.
He said the process could take the better part of two years.
“We’re going to want one more season under our belts before adopting permanent rules. Most likely in 2014 we’d be going back to the Natural Resources Board with permanent rules that would replace the existing emergency rules.”
Updating the state’s wolf management plan will be part of that process as well, according to Thiede. Right now, it’s samples and surveys concerning wolves.
“It’s really about collecting a lot of data and information,” Thiede said. “Collecting information about the wolves that have been harvested, collecting information from hunters and trappers that were successful and unsuccessful to find out more about that – their methods used and the amount of effort put in.”
They’ll try to get an idea about how many wolves are on the range, too.
“There will be the late winter track, radio telemetry and observation surveys as we come up with our minimum population count,” Thiede said. The information will be compiled and a new number should be out early this spring.
Federal level legal issues are always likely. Thiede noted a possible one.
“There is the Humane Society notice that they sent to the Fish and Wildlife Service ... that they were going to challenge the delisting,” he said.
So far, the state hasn’t seen any filing related to the notice. Thiede said the season itself went smoothly, with few law enforcement or hunter harassment issues.
“I was really pleased with the hunt. We had very few violations,” he said. “We’ve not had any reports, that I’m aware of, of any harassment taking place.”
Thiede thanked participating hunters and trappers for what he believes to be “a very successful first wolf season in Wisconsin.”
The use of dogs
State issues include the battle over the use of dogs for hunting wolves.
Dane County Circuit Court Judge Peter C. Anderson ruled Jan. 4 to allow the use of dogs to hunt wolves, but blocked hunters from training dogs to track wolves for now.
Anderson issued a temporary injunction Aug. 31 on the use of dogs for tracking and trailing wolves and for the use of dogs for training to track or trail free-ranging wolves after a group of humane societies filed suit, alleging the DNR failed to enact suitable restrictions on how hunters can use dogs.
When Anderson revisited the lawsuit Jan. 4, he said an existing rule that allows training dogs on wild animals does not address problems that could arise between dogs and wolves.
Though he found that rule invalid for the purpose, Anderson said the DNR had no duty to impose restrictions on hunting wolves with dogs.
The DNR has been working on rules that would allow for training.
“As part of the spring hearings this year and as part of our permanent rules, we do have language regarding the use of dogs for training,” Thiede said.
“So, we’re going to proceed and have those public discussions and, ultimately, it may come back down to a lawsuit again if it’s still felt that those provisions are not adequate.”
Permanent rules would allow hunters to train dogs on wolves during season daylight hours and in the month of March. Dogs would have to be tattooed or wear a collar with the owner’s name and address.
When the wolf hunting and trapping season was authorized in Wisconsin by Act 169 last April, the legislation allowed hunters to pursue wolves with up to six dogs after the end of the gun deer season.
The only restriction the DNR put in place initially was to make pursuit with dogs legal only during daylight hours.
Wisconsin’s inaugural wolf hunting and trapping season came to a close Dec. 23, when the Department of Natural Resources closed the sixth and final wolf harvest zone, so the recent ruling will allow hunters to use dogs to pursue wolves next season.
Wisconsin is the only state to allow the use of dogs to hunt wolves.
Bear hunting similarities
As far as how hunters would use dogs for wolf hunting, Wisconsin Bear Hunters’ Association President Al Lobner said there would be similarities to some types of hunting that are already done with the aid of dogs, but that there would be a bit to learn as well.
“Obviously you’d have to use different strains of dogs, but it’s a canid, so it’s like a coyote, basically,” Lobner said of wolves.
“A bear’s a treeing animal, so a bear will go up. Wolves are going to keep running. They might stop and bay once in a while. Most guys will have the strains of dogs that respect that, and keep their distance, and the minute the coyote or the wolf moves on, they follow again.”
Lobner said possible breed choices could include coon hounds mixed with rhodesian ridgebacks or Irish wolfhounds. Airedales would be another possibility. He said ability to scent-trail would be important.
“There will be a little bit of a learning curve there. It’ll take guys a while to get the kinds of dogs that they want to chase a wolf,” Lobner said. “Obviously, you’re not going to be able to sit there and catch a wolf and kill it, because, that’s just not going to happen. That’d just lead to disaster.”
Lobner said hunters wouldn’t likely pursue wolf packs, but would instead need to single out an animal.
“You’re going to have to single out tracks ... and see how it works,” he said.
Lobner doesn’t think hunting wolves with dogs is going to be a common pursuit, however, even with the ruling allowing it.
“There’s not going to be a lot of people that are going to do it, that’s for sure,” he said.
“With the success they’ve had with trapping and that – obviously that’s a system that’s going to work pretty good, too. But, there’s still going to be guys that are going to want to try [hunting with dogs].”
The most recent case of a confirmed dog depredation by a wolf comes from Jackson County.
Wildlife services confirmed Dec. 30 that wolves killed a 5-1⁄2-year-old Plott hound that was chasing coyotes on the Jackson County forest. Officials say the wolves are likely from the Nochi Hani Pack.
In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation allowing the establishment of a wolf hunting season Dec. 28.
The legislation does not automatically result in a hunt, but it clears the way for the Michigan Natural Resources Commission to establish one.
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is estimated to hold a population of about 700 wolves.
Minnesota’s first modern wolf hunting and trapping season ended Jan. 3. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources closed the season as the harvest neared the overall harvest target of 400.
Minnesota hunters went slightly over the target goal, but Minnesota DNR officials do not consider the harvest target to be a firm quota.
Minnesota hunters had a success rate of about 4 percent, compared to about a 20 to 25 percent success rate for trappers. A total of 6,000 Minnesota wolf licenses were issued. Minnesota’s wolf population is estimated at 3,000 animals.
Craig Turk may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.