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Published September 09 2012

Wisconsin debates use of dogs to hunt wolves

MADISON, Wis. — As Wisconsin prepares for its first wolf season, hunting groups say using dogs to track wolves is essential to success. Animal welfare advocates counter that the state needs to do more to protect hunting dogs from getting into potentially deadly confrontations with wolves.

A Dane County judge who has temporarily banned the use of dogs in the hunt will hold a hearing Friday.

Bob Welch, executive director of the Wisconsin Hunters Rights Coalition, which campaigned to create the hunt after wolves came off the endangered list in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan last January, said hunters who can't use dogs won't kill wolves.

“I think it would be very unlikely you'd even get one,” Welch told the Wisconsin State Journal for a story published Sunday.

Wisconsin would be the first state to allow the use of dogs for tracking wolves. Wisconsin will allow the killing of 200 of the state's more than 800 wolves during the five-month season beginning Oct. 15. Neighboring Minnesota won't allow wolf hunters to use dogs when its inaugural season opens Nov. 3. It has set a quota of 400 wolves out of the state's population of about 3,000.

Dane County Circuit Court Judge Peter Anderson is allowing the planning for a hunt without dogs to continue while he considers arguments from a group of humane societies and others. that the Department of Natural Resources needs to create rules to keep dogs safe during the hunt. He'll hold a hearing Friday on a state request to dismiss the lawsuit.

Hunt supporters say any rules, such as requiring the use of leashes, would make dogs less effective.

Carl Sinderbrand, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said other states’ wolf hunts are expected to be successful even without dogs, and he cited Montana as a state that's had a successful wolf season without dogs. Even Alaska, Sinderbrand said, limits the use of dogs to using a leashed dog to track a wounded wolf.

Sinderbrand said regulations to protect hunting dogs could require the use of leashes, limit the dogs allowed to scenting hounds that are less likely to attack a wolf and require professional training of wolf hounds.

Welch said those ideas are impractical.

In Minnesota, support for using of dogs “never really gained much traction,” said Chris Niskanen, a spokesman for the Minnesota DNR. He said agency biologists believe hunters without dogs as well as trappers will have little problem killing 400 wolves. He said the agency expects many wolves to be killed by trappers, which he added is the most effective method of taking a wolf.

Welch said Wisconsin's law would allow hunters up to six dogs. The dogs would be used when there's snow that permits tracking. When hunters find a wolf track, the dogs would be released. They would be outfitted with GPS collars to allow the hunters, on all-terrain vehicles or in trucks, to keep track of the location of their dogs.

The hunters would split into groups. One group would move out ahead of the dogs, Welch said, and wait for the dogs to drive the wolf to them. They then would shoot the wolf when it came into sight. Hunters would release their dogs only when one wolf rather than an entire pack is present.

Welch said evidence shows a lone wolf will run from a dog rather than turning to fight it.

“The first objective of a wolf is to get away,” said Welch.

But Sinderbrand said Wisconsin's payments to hunters who have lost dogs to wolves during the bear hunting season show otherwise. He said that between 1985, when wolf depredation claims were first paid, and 2011, the state has paid claims on 195 dogs killed by wolves either while hunting bears or training for the bear hunt.

As of late Friday, the Wisconsin DNR had received more than 20,000 applications for wolf permits. It plans to hold a drawing to select 1,160 permit winners early this week.