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Hunting group sues Wisconsin DNR in attempt to allow wolf hunt this winter

The Trump administration delisted the gray wolf from the endangered species list, making it possible for wolf hunts to resume.

A hunting group is suing the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in an attempt to force it to allow people to hunt wolves immediately. 

This comes after the Trump Administration late last year delisted the gray wolf from the endangered species list, which went into effect Jan. 4. Wisconsin law requires a wolf hunt every year from November through February, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has to resume the wolf hunt seasons if the wolves lose their federal protections, which they now have. 

The Wisconsin DNR planned to resume the wolf hunts in November 2021. State Republicans, though, wanted the DNR to not wait until fall, The Associated Press reported on Jan. 19, and now the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty on behalf of the group Hunter Nation have filed a lawsuit against the Wisconsin DNR in Jefferson County Circuit Court, accusing the agency of ignoring state law by not allowing a wolf hunt this winter. 

"Wisconsin law requires the DNR to hold a hunting and trapping season if the gray wolf is not under federal protections. Despite this clear mandate, Gov. [Tony] Evers, [DNR] Secretary [Preston] Cole and the Department of Natural Resources are playing politics and intentionally delaying the wolf harvest to give radical anti-hunting groups time to block the delisting and stop a hunt altogether,” Hunter Nation President Luke Hilgemann said in a statement

The Biden Administration is reviewing all of the Trump Administration's environmental decisions. On Tuesday, though, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wrote a letter to environmental groups (some had filed lawsuits to restore federal protections for gray wolves) defending the decision to delist the animal, The Hill reports

Hunter Nation and the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty are accusing the DNR of ignoring and violating state law as well as the Wisconsin constitution that guarantees the right to hunt, saying once the gray wolf was delisted, the DNR had an obligation to offer a hunting and trapping season this winter. 

In Minnesota, the trapping and hunting of gray wolves may be allowed, but the Minnesota DNR isn't going to make a decision on whether one should be held until after it completes its update to the wolf management plan. Meanwhile, a recreational wolf hunt does require state authorization, and it's something Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan have said they're opposed to.

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The Game and Fish bill signed into law Thursday allows Minnesotans to legally hunt and trap wolves for the first time in nearly four decades. The legislation gives the DNR authority to set harvest limits and conduct a hunter lottery. About 3,000 wolves live in Minnesota right now and the agency plans to reduce the population by about 400 this fall. The gray wolf was removed from the Federal Endangered Species List in January.

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One disagreement involves the timing of a wolf hunting season. The DNR thinks it should come after the firearms deer season has ended. But bills in the Legislature would have the seasons run concurrently. Next fall's hunt will be the first since the gray wolf came off the Endangered Species List.

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Wisconsin's first hunting season since the gray wolf came off the endangered species list begins Monday. Hunters and trappers will be allowed to take 201 wolves by the end of February, although nearly half of those are set aside for tribal members. Unlike their Minnesota counterparts (whose season begins Nov. 3rd), Wisconsinites will be able to hunt at night and use dogs.

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The state DNR is about to take over management of the gray wolf again after the federal government takes the animal off the endangered species list. Officials are still working out the details, but they say a hunting and trapping season could start up as early as fall and would likely involve a lottery system. They would take public comments before launching the season.