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Court Rejects WDNR Appeal to Stop February Wolf Hunt; LCO Tribe Opposed to Hunt

By Brian Bisonette

LCO Conservation Director

The following summation is an update of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services decision to delist gray wolves from the federal list of endangered species on Jan. 4, 2021, returning management authority to the lower 48 states and the subsequent Wisconsin February 2021 wolf harvest season.

In early February 2021, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Bennett Brantmeier ordered the Wisconsin Department of Resources (WDNR) to hold a Ma’iingan (wolf) hunting and trapping season at the end of February 2021 despite the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board (WRB) initial decision to host a November 2021 state-wide wolf hunt.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources appealed this ruling, which stemmed from a lawsuit filed by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty on behalf of Hunter Nation Inc., a Kansas-based hunting advocacy group.

On February 19, 2021, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals rejected the Department of Natural Resources request to stop the wolf hunt, slated to begin Monday February 22, 2021 through February 28, 2021. The appeals court ruled that the order was not a final judgment, so the appellate court had no jurisdiction over it. Consequently, the appeal was dismissed.

The imminent wolf hunt is scheduled to proceed with 4000 licenses issued for the harvesting of 200 wolves throughout the State of Wisconsin. According to the Department of Natural Resources “The department's approved quota considered 2020 wolf population data, population response to previous harvest seasons, scientific literature, and population model projections. The proposed quota objective is to allow for a sustainable harvest that neither increases nor decreases the state's wolf population. Before any licenses are issued, the department will take steps to honor the Ojibwe Tribes’ right to declare up to half of the harvestable surplus in the ceded territory, per the Tribes’ treaty rights and court rulings.”

This affirmation was also conveyed to Voight Task Force (VTF) Chairman John Johnson Sr. by WDNR Deputy Secretary Todd Ambs in a letter, dated February 12, 2021. Deputy Secretary Ambs recognized the Tribes’ right to declare up to half of the harvestable surplus in the ceded territory, in accordance with the Tribes’ treaty rights and the LCO court rulings. Mr. Ambs also advised VTF representatives that wolf harvesting zones are currently set by rule and no hunting by state-licensed hunters will be allowed within the exterior reservation boundaries of the Bad River, Red Cliff, Lac Courte Oreilles, and Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe Bands.

The Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission’s Voight Task Force met twice in the last week to discuss issues and voice concerns over the Jefferson Circuit Court decision. Most notably:

Ø The States lack of engagement with the Tribes.

Ø The State wolf harvest is scheduled during wolf breeding season.

Ø The number of permits the State is issuing is twenty (20) times the quota level.

Ø Hunters will be permitted to hunt with dogs.

Ø Trappers will be permitted to use snares.

Federal litigation is impossible due to the short notice and imminent harvest season. A favorable ruling on the WDNR appeal was the “prospective remedy” for preventing this February’s wolf harvest.

Given our current limitations of legal recourse, GLIFWC staff has drafted a stern Tribal declaration on behalf of the VTF and sent to the WDNR. The declaration letter signed by GLIFWC Executive Administrator Micheal “Mic” Isham states “the VTF approved the declaration under protest of 100 wolves (equal to one half of quota) in each of the six zones.”

Executive Administrator Isham also conveyed the expectation to close its season when the zone quotas have been met in each zone and requested that the State immediately begin the process to put in place an appropriate, reservation specific buffer around ech of the reservations that are closed to wolf hunting. The VTF is also requesting that the State require hunters and trappers to surrender all wolf carcasses, and that the State provide them to GLIFWC for biological data.

On a final note, Tribal Members continue to inquire about the LCO Bands intent for participating in the February wolf hunt in the ceded territories. Members are advised that Ma’iingan is a protected species under both the Lac Courte Oreilles Bands Tribal VI Conservation Codes of Law, §1.329 Protected Species and the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife §3.29 Voight Model Code. As a result, Lac Courte Oreilles Conservation will not issue wolf permits.

These prohibitions are engrained by tradition belief and acknowledgement of our ancestors. The significance of Ma’iingan is etched in the Anishinaabeg creation story summarized below.

The Creator sent Wolf (Ma’iingan) to be the Peoples’ companion and brother. Ma’iingan and Anishinaabeg were instructed to travel together and name everything in nature, including all of the plants and animals. Once they accomplished this feat, they returned to the Creator. Ma’iingan and Anishinaabeg were told by the Creator that he would separate them and they would forever walk apart, but that they would live parallel lives. “WHAT HAPPENS TO ONE WILL ALSO HAPPEN TO THE OTHER,” the Creator said.

I will provide further developments as they become available.

Wisconsin DNR map shows gray wolf packs detected over 2019 and 2020 in a winter tracking survey. The quota of 200 wolves to be harvested is based on estimated 1,100 wolves in the state.


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