Wisconsin Animal Protection Group Claims DNR Ignored Science and Public Comments in 2023 Wolf Plan
The Madison, Wisconsin-based nonprofit animal activist group, Great Lakes Wildlife Alliance, has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) accusing the agency and its board of ignoring science and public comments while drafting and finalizing its wolf management plan.
In developing the 2023 wolf management plan, staff and members of the Natural Resources Board are described in the lawsuit as having convened in private meetings that were hosted by wolf hunting advocates. The lawsuit details that at least two meetings were hosted by favored parties including the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and the Wisconsin Association of Sporting Dogs, while the Great Lakes Wildlife Alliance was not allowed to attend the meetings.
In participating in these private meetings, the lawsuit says the agency violated Wisconsin’s Open Meeting Law and Administrative Procedure Act. The lawsuit also says the agency violated the petitioner’s rights under the Wisconsin Constitution by engaging in a practice and pattern of viewpoint discrimination.
The viewpoints that were allegedly discriminated against were those of community members who submitted comments that advocated against the practice of hunting as a way to reduce wolf conflicts with livestock. Great Lakes Wildlife Alliance says there are other ethical and scientific-based options for wolf management that were not considered.
In addition to favoring certain perspectives and ignoring others, the lawsuit says that the agency ignored or gave little weight to scientific studies that question the accuracy of the DNR’s wolf population counts. Other scientific comments highlighted that wolf hunting and trapping would not reduce conflicts and encounters with humans.
After these meetings took place, Adam Payne, the department secretary at the time, shared that changes would be coming to the state's wolf management plan, changes that are alleged to have been reached with favoritism shown to organizations that wanted to limit the wolf population.
Under the 2023 Wolf Plan, the state aims to keep the wolf population between about 800 and 1,200 animals. The plan replaces the previous plan which was approved in 1999 and revised in 2007. That plan established a population goal of 350 wolves. Currently, the population is estimated to stand at around 1,000 wolves, hitting the mark of the 2023 wolf plan.
Wolf management has been a contentious topic in Wisconsin. Farm owners have argued that the expanding wolf population is preying on their livestock; hunters take issue with wolves depleting the deer population across the Northern parts of the state; and conservation groups have vocalized concerns over the species' fluctuating population and their need for governmental protection.
In 2012, the Republican legislature passed a law that would require the DNR to hold an annual wolf hunting season to maintain a limit of 350 wolves. However, both hunters and farmers have argued that this limit was put in place to justify a high kill quota.
In February 2021, a wolf hunt was conducted and 218 wolves were killed in less than three days. The wolf hunt took place the year after former president Donald Trump removed Gray Wolves from the protection of the federal Endangered Species Act. In 2022, a federal court reinstated those protections.
With its lawsuit, the Great Lakes Wildlife Alliance is asking the court to declare that the agency's 2023 Wolf Plan is invalid and wants the court to block any wolf hunting sessions until the agency complies with the state’s procedure act laws.
The lawsuit is also asking the court to issue a judgment that shows the agency violated the rights of the Great Lakes Wildlife Alliance "by selectively rejecting public comments from disfavored parties."