I am a Wisconsin hunter and I am embarrassed and disgusted at what took place in my state last week with a rushed and ill-considered wolf hunt.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s outdoor writer, Paul Smith, has written an excellent account of the history that got us to this point. But “this point” is carnage that exceeded the Department of Natural Resources’ harvest goals by an astounding 82% .
Don’t blame the DNR’s wildlife professionals for that. They wanted to delay the hunt until November to give them adequate time to set proper limits, consult with Native American tribes and administer the program correctly. But they were over-ruled by the courts, legislators and their own bosses on the Natural Resources Board.
“Never before had the DNR put together an application period and drawing for a hunt in such a short period of time,” Smith writes. “It compromised the agency’s legal requirement to consult with Native American tribes.
“And never before had the state held a hunting and trapping season during the wolves’ breeding season.”
To make matters worse, over 90% of those wolves were trapped or hunted with dogs. Most ethical hunters would consider those practices to be out of bounds, unless you were trying to track down wolves that had been known to kill domestic animals.
A quick summary of the lengthy story recounted by Smith goes like this. On January 4th, the Trump EPA delisted the gray wolf as endangered. Wisconsin law requires that, when these federal protections come off, the DNR must schedule a hunt between the beginning of November and the end of February.
DNR staff wisely told agency policy makers that that did not give them enough time to put together a hunt by February. They recommended waiting for November. The board went along, but then a Kansas-based extremist group (Ted Nugent is on its board; enough said) sued and Wisconsin courts agreed that the DNR had no authority to delay the hunt. The result is this awful mess: a harvest quota grossly exceeded, tribal relations damaged, and the general non-hunting public appalled.
All of this gives responsible Wisconsin hunters a black eye, and one that won’t heal for quite a while. Let’s be clear. From a scientific, biological perspective, there was no imperative to reduce the number of wolves nor was there a reason to avoid a hunt for sustainability reasons. Wolves took only about 150 domestic animals last year and their owners were well compensated by the DNR with payments totaling $1.8 million. The hunt won’t destroy the wolf population here, but let’s by honest: it only happened because some hunters just wanted to kill wolves.
So, it’s worth asking in this context — since this is a website devoted to moderation in not just politics, but life in general — what a moderate hunter would be. Well, it would be somewhere between Ted Nugent and PETA. Now, realizing there is an ocean between those two worlds, let’s try to narrow that down.
Basically, I’ve got two rules as a hunter and fisherman. I won’t kill anything that I won’t eat or give away to be eaten and I’ll adhere to “fair chase.”
That second one is complicated. People have written books about what “fair chase” means. For me, it means I won’t take an unfair advantage. I don’t hunt over bait, even where it’s legal. I would never use dogs to pursue anything. And, maybe most importantly, I will only take a shot that I am reasonably sure will provide a fast and humane kill.
The moderation here is that I subscribe neither to the PETA notion that any hunting is wrong or the Nugent idea that killing is a legitimate end itself. If you accept the idea that hunting is okay (as about 70% of Americans do), then the question becomes, ‘what are the legitimate limits that benefit the resource and respects the general public’s values, while treating the game with respect?’
The rushed wolf hunt travesty of last week honored none of those goals.