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Hearing heats up on bill to block enforcement of wolf killings

Danielle Kaeding

Wisconsin Public Radio

A public hearing Wednesday on an Assembly bill that would block enforcement and investigation of illegal wolf killings began with Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range, taking aim at the absence of the bill’s author.

Milroy said he was disgusted that Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake, could not be present for the public hearing on Assembly Bill 712.

"I don’t think I’ve ever been to a committee hearing in my life where the lead author of the bill has not shown up for the public hearing," said Milroy. "There’s some speculation that the whole reason for this bill is because the author of the bill is running for another office right now and the election is next week."

Milroy called Jarchow’s absence a political ploy and accused the lawmaker of colluding with Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, which drew a strong rebuke from the chairman of the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources and Sporting Heritage.

"The vote on this bill is not going to happen until after the election, of which has no concern for this committee at this time," Kleefisch said.

A legislative aid for Jarchow said a scheduling conflict prevented the lawmaker from attending.

Milroy later apologized for his remarks, but the tone denoted the controversy underlying the bill before the committee.

The measure would prohibit state wardens or law enforcement officers from sharing information with federal law enforcement regarding enforcement of any state or federal law related to wolves, including evidence of any illegal wolf killings.

Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, questioned the companion Senate bill author Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, whether the legislation would lead to illegal killings.

"Aren’t you giving free license to people — at least as far as the state’s concerned — to violate both state and federal law?"

Tiffany argued against any notion that "sportsmen are just going to go out and start banging away at wolves." He told the committee it’s the federal government’s responsibility to manage wolf populations.

"They should hire the staff necessary to review these things if they believe it’s that important," said Tiffany.

The state held its first wolf hunt in 2012 after the wolf was delisted in 2011. However, state management of the wolf ended in Dec. 2014 when a federal judge ruled it should be placed back on the endangered species list in the western Great Lakes states.

The bill would also prevent the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources from spending money to manage wolves except for reimbursement for depredation of livestock or dogs. Last year, Wisconsin paid out just under $200,000 to farms, individuals and hunters for damage related to wolves.

The state has around 925 to 952 wolves, according to the DNR’s last minimum count. Supporters of the bill argue that the wolf’s increasing population has threatened farmer’s livelihoods, their livestock, pets, and hunting dogs.

Matt Lallemont with the Northern Wisconsin Houndsmen Association said something needs to be done to get the wolf off the endangered species list and control the wolf population.

"Our federal legislators have had three years to pass legislation to uphold the ESA delisting ruling, and they have not given it the priority it deserves," he said.

A bi-partisan group of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation has introduced legislation to delist the wolf, but those efforts have stalled.

Conservationists argued the wolf is a vital part of maintaining a healthy ecosystem in the state and removes deer from the landscape that have been infected by chronic wasting disease. They also contended the state was opening itself up to litigation and losing federal funds.

"It’s not a clear issue and it’s difficult to resolve as it makes sense," said Jodi Habush Sinykin, environmental attorney for Midwest Environmental Advocates. "There are millions of dollars of federal funds at stake as well if Wisconsin were to pursue this task."

The bill also undermines support for delisting and disregards tribes in Wisconsin, argued Adrian Wydeven, chair of the advisory council for the Timber Wolf Alliance.

"The wolf plays an important role in the culture of all of Wisconsin Indian tribes," he said. "Lack of wolf protection, as this bill would cause, would probably result in tribes losing packs on reservation lands and portions of the ceded territories."

Members of other groups who spoke at the hearing say they support the intent of the bill, but also fear the state would not be able to conduct science-based management if the wolf is delisted because monitoring would be discontinued under the legislation.

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