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A Dane County Circuit Court judge temporarily put a halt to the wolf hunt planned to begin Nov. 6, ordering on Friday that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) set a quota of zero wolves for all regions of the state.
The judge, Jacob Frost, did not strike down the state’s law that requires a wolf hunt to be held whenever the animal is not on the federal list of endangered species, but found that the way the law has been applied is unconstitutional.
Frost’s order was a win for the animal advocacy groups who had brought the lawsuit, arguing the wolf hunt is unconstitutional because the DNR never created a permanent rule to guide how the hunt is conducted.
In his ruling on Friday, Frost agreed, finding that in order to hold a wolf hunt the agency would need to propose a rule that is then approved by the Legislature.
“The DNR needs to stop it. They need to actually comply with the law. They need to regulate the hunt. They need to develop a wolf management plan. They need to implement rules so they can regulate the hunt. They need to be part of that oversight process that keeps the law constitutional,” Frost said.
After Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed the law that required a wolf hunt to be held in Wisconsin in 2012, the DNR held hunts under an emergency rule from 2012 to 2014 until the wolf was placed back on the endangered species list. The controversial hunt held in February of this year that resulted in more wolves being killed than the quota allowed was also held under that emergency rule.
Frost ruled that an emergency rule cannot be extended like this.
“It’s absurd to think it’s OK to be here nine years later without a permanent rule,” Frost said. “My ruling is the 2012 emergency rule is no longer valid.”
Frost said his ruling aligns with the decision made by the Wisconsin Supreme Court when it struck down statewide mask mandates and stay-at-home orders last year. That decision, in Wisconsin Legislature v. Palm, found that then-Secretary Designee of the Department of Health Services Andrea Palm was not allowed to issue multiple health orders under the same emergency declaration. Under that decision, if Palm or Gov. Tony Evers wished to extend orders, they would have had to make a rule subject to the approval of the Legislature.
Frost found that the DNR must follow the same process for the wolf hunt. Because state law allows a hunting season to be held before Feb. 28, the agency could write and receive approval for a rule that would still allow a hunt to be held in the coming months.
The wolf hunt has become a source of major political division in the state, resulting in a succession fight on the board that guides policy for the DNR and gained the attention of numerous interest groups. Meanwhile, the DNR is currently working to update its wolf management plan, which was written in 1999 and last updated in 2007.
The Department of Justice, which is representing the DNR in the lawsuit, requested that Frost stay his decision pending an appeal but was denied.
This case, in state court, is only one of the lawsuits seeking to stop the wolf hunt. Another suit, filed by Wisconsin’s Ojibwe tribes, is pending in federal court. A hearing on a motion for a preliminary injunction in that case is set to be held on Oct. 29.
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