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DNR Board Raises Wisconsin Wolf Kill Quota Amid Dispute Over Who Should Be On The Board

The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board approved a quota of 300 wolves for the November 2021 wolf hunt.

The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board approved a wolf hunt for November, and it could lead to up to 300 of the animals being killed. However, the actual number may be far less than that.

Debate at the board's meeting in Milwaukee Wednesday also reignited a verbal fight between appointees of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and former Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, over who should be serving on the panel.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) had proposed a wolf kill quota of 130 for this fall. The DNR called that a conservative number because of uncertainty about the size of the state's wolf population after a court-ordered hunt in February that led non-tribal hunters to kill about 215 wolves, roughly 100 more than the DNR said it intended.

About four dozen people testified via the internet at the DNR board meeting. Many criticized the February kill total, including Dr. Jeff Widell of Shorewood.

Dr. Jeff Widell (on video screen) speaks to the DNR Board meeting in Milwaukee Wednesday.
Chuck Quirmbach
Dr. Jeff Widell (on video screen) speaks to the DNR Board meeting in Milwaukee Wednesday.

"The killing spree that went viral and that the whole world was appraised of, in short order it was an embarrassment and a moral tragedy to the citizens of Wisconsin," he said.

Many of the speakers called for zero wolves to be killed this fall, or at least a sizable reduction in the DNR's proposed number. But the state's largest farming and hunting groups demanded a quota of far more than 130.

Luke Hilgemann is president and CEO of Hunter Nation. The group's successful lawsuit led to the February hunt, and Hilgemann argued 420 wolves should be hunted in November.

Luke Hilgemann, of Hunter Nation, (on video screen) talks to the DNR Board.
Chuck Quirmbach
Luke Hilgemann, of Hunter Nation, (on video screen) talks to the DNR Board.

"Hunters have been responsible managers of this population. We think it will restore balance," he said.

The DNR Board first considered a member's proposal to kill about 500 wolves, but narrowly rejected that number as well as the DNR's recommendation of 130. Eventually, a quota of 300 was OK'd with the support of all four Walker appointees who remain on the committee and control it.

That helped add more fuel to another dispute that's been simmering for months — the refusal by Walker-appointed, board chair Dr. Fred Prehn to step down, even though his term expired in May and Evers has named Sandra Nass of Ashland as his replacement.

Prehn said he doesn't have to leave until the Senate confirms the nominee.

Moments after the wolf vote, DNR Secretary Preston Cole said the result shows why Prehn remains board chair. "Now, Doc and I are professional friends, but now it is clear folks, it becomes clear everyday that putting your thumb on the finger and tipping the scale is what's being done here," Cole said.

Prehn then argued with Cole. The exchange went like this:

Prehn: "Mr. Secretary, I think you're out of line with your editorial."

Cole: "I'm out of order? I'm out of order?"

Prehn later told WUWM that he's remaining on the DNR board one day at a time and blamed the Republican-controlled state Legislature for not voting on his replacement. "I wish the Legislature would act on what their responsibilities are. Legislators need to act on confirmation. It's in their court. I'm waiting on legislators to take action," he said.

Sandra Nass speaks to the DNR Board, after being asked by DNR Secretary Preston Cole, to do so. Gov. Evers has nominated Nass to the Board. She would replace Fred Prehn (sitting at far end of the tables, under the video screen.) However, Prehn says he won't leave until state lawmakers confirm Nass.
Chuck Quirmbach
Sandra Nass speaks to the DNR board after being asked by DNR Secretary Preston Cole to do so.

But state Sen. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) said he went to the meeting to talk with Prehn, but was unsuccessful. He said Prehn should resign immediately. "I think he's doing a disservice to the DNR, and the institution of the Legislature by not stepping down. He shouldn't be on the board," Carpenter told WUWM.

Control of the DNR board this fall could affect what happens with the November wolf hunt. DNR leaders will now meet with the state's Ojibwe tribes to see if they will exercise their right to claim nearly half the quota of 300, and quite possibly decide not to kill any of the animals.

Deputy DNR Secretary Todd Ambs said the department will also look at other possible adjustments to the wolf quota. He said that's not unusual for hunting seasons. "As you might imagine, there's whole sorts of numbers that are adopted for the deer gun season this year. There's a whole array of administrative actions that we take after that," Ambs outlined.

Ambs said some changes may come next month, when the DNR board is expected to consider emergency rules to manage the wolf hunt.

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