A Madison judge has ruled people can hunt wolves with dogs but blocked them from training dogs to go after the animals.
"I think a lot of people in this state think it's nuts to use dogs to hunt wolves. I don't have a strong opinion one way or the other and even if i did, that's not the question," said Judge Peter Anderson. "That's the extent of my ruling. I cannot say on this law that there is a mandamus here. [The DNR has] the authority but do not have the obligation to do more than they did."
A group of Humane Societies filed a lawsuit earlier this year alleging the Department of Natural Resources failed to place any real restrictions on how wolf hunters can use dogs. Anderson temporarily banned the use of dogs while he weighed the case.
Anderson ruled Friday the DNR had an obligation to tweak a pre-existing rule that allows people to train dogs on wild animals to address problems that would arise between dogs and wolves. He found the rule is invalid and can't be used to support training on wolves.
But he said the DNR had no duty to impose restrictions on actually hunting wolves with dogs.
Attorneys on both sides said they will have to continue to look into what it means for the now-annual fall hunt.
"The oral ruling sounded favorable to hunting to our side and unfavorable or temporarily unfavorable as to training, but we'll see the written ruling and come to some more firm conclusions," said Thomas Janczewski, an attorney for the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association.
"There's a bigger picture here; not just about wolves and not just about dogs. Its about whether the DNR is going to engage in rule-making the way it historically has based on science and based on environmental stewardship. Or whether the Natural Resources Board and the DNR is going to be excessively influenced by political pressure and we all know that's what happened here," said Carl Silderbrand, an attorney for the animal rights groups.
Judge Anderson will issue a written ruling on the case next week.
Attorneys for the DNR said the Natural Resources Board was already looking into rules about using dogs in wolf hunts. However, they said those rules would not likely be done by this year's hunt; instead would go into effect in 2014.
DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp put out a statement after Friday's ruling:
"We are pleased that Judge Anderson removed the injunction that banned the use of dogs for hunting wolves. However, we are disappointed with Judge Anderson’s decision to prohibit training of dogs to hunt wolves. We will continue to seek input from the public and from stakeholders -- including tribes -- as we continue to develop permanent rules on the wolf season, and the use of dogs for both training and hunting of wolves."