The Wisconsin legislators who sponsored this bill have embarrassed the citizens of Wisconsin to the world.” ~ Bob Boucher, citizen who testified against bill
Rep. Joel Kleefisch, chair of the state Assembly’s Committee on Natural Resources and Sporting Heritage, held a hearing Jan. 10 on AB712, a bill sponsored by Rep. Adam Jarchow in the state Assembly, which has a companion bill sponsored by Tom Tiffany in the state Senate (SB602). The text says: “This bill prohibits a law enforcement officer from enforcing a federal or state law that relates to the management of the wolf population in this state or that prohibits the killing of wolf in this state.” It also prohibits the expenditure of funds to enforce protection of wolves, undermining the Endangered Species Act, while retaining payments for livestock damage and bear hounders’ dogs injured by wolves.
Many believe the purpose of this bill is to force the hand of the federal government to delist Wisconsin’s gray wolves from the federal Endangered Species List so the state can OK the resumption of wolf hunting, which has been blocked by the federal government since 2014. The law would be moot if wolves were removed from the Endangered Species List, but kick in again if the wolves were re-listed, even if there was just one wolf left in Wisconsin.
The hearing was well attended. The bear hunters, bow hunters, NRA, and Conservation Congress each sent representatives supporting AB712, including Wisconsin Bear Hunters’ Association and U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance lobbyist Bob Welch.
The Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, which represents 205 hunting, trapping and hounding groups, strongly supports federal delisting, but questioned whether this bill would expose them to the public as willing to do anything to kill wolves. Their focus was on rallying hunters and trappers to call Paul Ryan and push him to forward delisting our wolves.
One citizen speaking against the bills said, “I am against Senator Tiffany in general. Every time you speak about ‘management’ you mean ‘kill.’ Table the bill.”
There were equally as many attending who sought to educate the committee that wolf populations are self-limiting and there is no “need” to hunt wolves. There is no CWD where wolves live.
Many who testified were simmering with outrage.
Bob Boucher (UW-Madison, MS in water resource management) has had a hunting and fishing license in Wisconsin for 50 years: “This bill proves to the entire world that the Wisconsin Legislature is populated with individuals who have violated their oath of office, the code of ethics for government service and the public trust. It also shows the world that the Legislature is populated with unprincipled law breakers who encourage poaching in direct defiance of upholding the laws of this country and the Endangered Species Act. Wolves play a critical role in maintaining biological land health. As a keystone species, wolves create a trophic cascade that supports healthy forests in Wisconsin.”
The state Department of Natural Resources claims that there are over 900 wolves in the state now, a miraculous four-year recovery after 1,100 were killed in three years of hunts. (It took 38 years of protection to get to 850 wolves prior to the hunts that began in 2012.)
Other bill opponents pointed out that the much-referenced “goal” of 350 wolves in the Wisconsin wolf management plan was never a “goal” but a minimum number of wolves for the state — and that it was a number picked out of the rifle butts of hunters and trappers with zero scientific backing. It was floated in 1999, and is outdated by 20 years. Management plans are supposed to reflect new science and be updated every five years.
AB712 even prohibits law enforcement and wardens from communicating incidents of poaching to USFWS federal law enforcement. It would enable free-for-all poaching, poisoning, trapping and killing — and not only of wolves. Those who poach wolves will likely poach other species.
Jodi Habush Sinykin, an attorney who represents Midwest Environmental Advocates, spoke against the bills. She testified: “AB712 takes us back 100 years to a time when fear and ignorance determined our approach to wildlife.” She predicted it would “open a Pandora’s box of widespread poaching, public safety concerns, and costly litigation.”
The bills’ authors want wolves back under state control to enable annual killing sprees. It is just a matter of how to get there. One argument that might be persuasive to wolf-haters is Sinykin’s legal assessment that this bill will actually delay delisting by the federal government: “It will cost untold dollars in litigation that will go on for years,” she said.
Mary Anderson of Spooner raises horses in wolf country. She sees wolves, but has had no problem. She called it a foolish bill with no sense.
The Wolf Patrol weighed in against this bill and the “bully tactics of a small minority that has failed to get its way through legitimate means.”
Stephen Anderson of Hartford said, “This is one step short of returning to bounty years. … Illegal killing is the second highest cause of wolf deaths.” He added that the question should be whether to kill wolves at all.
Wisconsin’s Indian tribes, who have important cultural attachment to the wolves as their brothers, were not consulted in the development of the bill. Law enforcement was not consulted either.
One citizen joked: “How do we know if there are any wolves in Wisconsin? Wait to see if three little pigs are threatened with home eviction? Or ask a little girl in a red cape (if she has encountered the ‘big bad wolf’)?”
AB712 proves that returning the stewardship of wolves to the state of Wisconsin would be irresponsible, since the wolf-haters in the state Legislature and beyond appear to be in power and looking for a way to destroy the wolf population. This bill also demonstrates that our wildlife, even the most endangered, which weave the world together and protect our health, are not granted the appropriate respect and treatment they deserve as a public trust.
ACTION ALERTS: A hearing on the Senate version of this wolf poaching bill (SB602) will be Tuesday, Jan. 16 at 10 a.m. Also SB633, dropping the requirement for proof of rabies certification on hounding dogs! Please network widely, contact senators, and attend!
Citizens can fight for our wolves and healthy forests in Wisconsin. Flood the phone lines of the following against delisting Great Lakes and Wyoming wolves:
Federal authors of legislation to remove Great Lakes and Wyoming wolves from the Endangered Species List:
This column was originally published in the Madison CapTimes on January 14, 2018