MADISON, Wis. -- Allowing hunters to use dogs to track down wolves without any restrictions will result in bloody encounters between the animals, lawyers for animal rights groups argued Wednesday.
A coalition of humane societies filed a lawsuit arguing that state wildlife officials didn't impose restrictions on hunting dogs for this year's wolf hunt, which creates the potential for brutal wolf-dog clashes that violate Wisconsin's animal cruelty laws.
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During Wednesday's hearing, the groups asked Dane County Circuit Judge Peter C. Anderson to temporarily block the Department of Natural Resources from issuing wolf permits unless the agency notifies hunters that they cannot train dogs to go after wolves. Coalition attorney Robert Habush said the lack of hound restrictions amounted to "agency malpractice."
But the DNR says an injunction would effectively halt the hunt. Agency officials said they don't have enough time to add dog restrictions to permits before the hunt begins in October.
Assistant Attorney General Cynthia Hirsch told the judge DNR rule-makers believed the legislation that created the wolf hunt didn't grant them the authority to restrict dogs.
"Basically, DNR had no choice in this matter," she argued.
After listening to both sides for about three hours, Anderson said he would issue a decision Friday. He said he needs more time to consider the injunction request.
"We need to slow it down," Anderson said. "These are tough issues to get a handle on."
President Barack Obama's administration removed Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan wolves from the endangered species list in January, relegating their management to the states. Wisconsin Republicans pushed through a law this spring that allows hunters to use traps and dogs to chase wolves during daylight hours. No other state allows wolf hunters to use dogs, according to the DNR.
The first hunt is scheduled to begin Oct. 15 and run through the end of February.
The DNR crafted emergency regulations this summer to ensure the hunt could begin by October. The rules set the kill quota at 201 animals statewide, about a quarter of the state's wolves, and the maximum number of permits at 2,010. As of Wednesday, about 16,500 people had applied for a permit.
But the rules didn't include any restrictions on using hunting dogs, such as leash or lead requirements.
The humane societies and a wolf watcher group allege the DNR ignored expert findings that wolves will attack hunting dogs.
"Instead, it has adopted regulations whose sparsity and inexplicable lack of reasonable restrictions cross the line by allowing hunting to become a blood sport abhorred by modern society," the group said in court filings.
Hirsch argued the wolf hunt law states hunters can use dogs and DNR rule-makers believed adding restrictions would exceed their authority. The law didn't require the DNR to impose protections for dogs, she added. DNR attorney Tim Andryk said hunters felt leashes and leads were impractical in the woods and they can tell their dogs to stop through radio collars.
Hirsch also argued the humane societies have no grounds to sue since the hunting dogs don't belong to them, she added.
"While the plaintiffs are certainly upset ... their issue is with the Legislature, or the federal government in the first place for taking wolves off the endangered species list," Hirsch said.
Coalition attorney Carl Sinderbrand noted humane societies care for injured dogs and wolves and dog-wolf fights run counter to the societies' mission to protect animals. He also argued hunting dogs could injure wolf watchers and radio collar signals don't make hunting dogs stop.
He also said the DNR disregarded expert testimony during the rule-making process warning wolves will turn on dogs. The lack of regulation, he said, will turn the north woods into a "free-for-all."