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  • Writer's picturePatrick Durkin

Wisconsin Board's Wolf Quota Puts Emotion Over Science

Looking and sounding like frazzled parents warning a daughter not to marry the town drunk, DNR Secretary Preston Cole and three Natural Resources Board members sat helpless Aug. 11 while the majority settled instead for the village idiot.

And so the NRB ended a six-hour session by voting 5-2 to reject the Department of Natural Resources’ science-based kill quota of 130 wolves for the hunting/trapping season, scheduled to start Nov. 6. After considering other emotion-based quotas ranging from 300 to 504, the NRB chose 300.

Board member Sharon Adams cast the fifth vote, but issued a press release Aug. 13 explaining she was confused when voting, and did not favor a 300-wolf quota.

The NRB, of course, sets policy for the DNR. In rejecting agency expertise, NRB members Fred Prehn, Bill Bruins, Terry Hilgenberg and Greg Kazmierski chose the 300-wolf quota through self-described “rounding” and “simple math.”

The NRB’s majority clearly learned nothing — including humility — from the mess they created in February when recklessly improvising a season that killed 218 wolves, 99 (83%) more than the legally prescribed 119 quota for nontribal hunters and trappers. Instead, Board vice chair Kazmierski scolded the DNR for not “correcting” media reports about the overkill with alternative facts: In Kaz World, the kill was only 18 wolves high (9%) because the NRB OK’d a quota of 200.

Y’know, it’s one thing for agenda-driven advocates like Luke Hilgemann of Hunter Nation or Mike Brust of the Wisconsin Bowhunters Association to trample legal realities with twisted talking points, but Kazmierski knows better.

Therefore, Cole asked Cheryl Heilman, the DNR’s chief legal counsel, to explain again what folks like Kazmierski have ignored since federal courts determined Chippewa fishing and hunting treaty rights in Wisconsin 40 years ago. Heilman reminded the NRB that DNR biologists determine a species’ surplus for harvest, agency officials discuss that quota with the 11 tribes’ representatives, and then the tribes can claim up to 50% of it on lands and waters within Wisconsin’s “ceded territory.”

Scream till you’re hoarse, but that’s our law and it won’t change.

Predictably, Kazmierski dug in like a deer tick, insisting the wolf quota be 504, not 130. Using distribution percentages from February’s season, Kazmierski proposed state hunters get 59.5% (300 wolves) and the tribes 40.5% (204 wolves).

Cole erupted. “You’re manipulating the numbers,” he said angrily. “On its face (that’s) damned near illegal. … You folks are so out of bounds. … You’re gerrymandering the number just to nullify the tribal take. ... It doesn’t work that way.”

How about that? Cole is finally acknowledging what hunters, anglers and trappers have known over 30 years: Kazmierski revises reality at whim, assuming no one recalls what he said or heard a minute, month or year earlier.

But Kazmierski wasn’t the only NRB member ignoring entrenched facts. Prehn — three months into his “Occupy the NRB” gambit that began when his term expired May 1 — repeatedly complained that the DNR wouldn’t adjust its proposal to account for the tribes’ refusal to kill their allotted quota.

When Keith Warnke — the DNR’s fish, wildlife and parks division administrator — repeatedly explained that the agency’s biological “surplus” for wolves was 130, Prehn sneered, “Is that biological surplus 130 or 70?”

Cole, in turn, told Prehn: “We followed the science and the law, and the number we moved forward (130) is the number we stand by. Period.”

Prehn and Kazmierski also pushed another myth: that the state’s current wolf-management plan, written in 1999 and amended in 2007, sets the population goal at 350. Warnke reminded them 350 was never the goal: “Our plan was that 350 (wolves) was the threshold where we would consider harvest” and other options.

Todd Ambs, the DNR’s deputy secretary, then tag-teamed with Warnke to emphasize that fact. “We can’t reiterate enough that was not a population goal we’re trying to manage toward. … The 1999 management plan did not speak to a harvest number. Period.”

Prehn responded, “There’s a difference of opinion on that, Todd.” But neither Prehn nor Kazmierski documented any evidence. In contrast, NRB member Marcy West earlier read them specifics straight from the plan, which they also ignored.

Perhaps realizing they were talking to toddlers who won’t eat their vegetables, Adams and NRB member Bill Smith advised Prehn, Kazmierski, Bruins and Hilgenberg to think long-term. Smith also reminded them if the wolf population suddenly drops 25% or more, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could reclaim wolf-management duties, and prohibit hunting, trapping and lethal removal of problem wolves.

“We need to consider actions and decisions that are legally and scientifically defendable,” Smith said. “The numbers we set must be scientifically defendable. If they’re not, we’ll be taken to court and we’ll lose.”

West also reminded them that many citizens in public testimony earlier that day demanded a zero quota. Those folks, however, offered no credible evidence that the DNR’s quota would harm the wolf population.

Many of those testifying also claimed high wounding losses and illegal kills during February’s hunt, even though the DNR’s postseason law-enforcement report showed only four wolves killed illegally, zero shot and not found, zero killed by unknown means, and zero killed while trapped incidentally. After all, trailing dogs typically find wounded animals.

One speaker, in fact, warned of grim consequences if the NRB OK’d the DNR’s quota. Unfortunately for wolf advocates, the man claiming that under the guise of science was Adrian Treves, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who’s more wolf activist and self-promoter than peer-respected researcher.

Treves told the NRB he used two peer-reviewed studies (his own) that the DNR didn’t use to predict how a 130-wolf quota would affect Wisconsin’s wolves in varying scenarios.

“My predictions are dire,” Treves said. “In 10 out of 18 scenarios the wolf population will go below … 350, and in four scenarios it will go below the state listing goal of 250.”

Kazmierski asked Treves an obvious question after noting that hunters, trappers and other human-caused actions killed 789 wolves from 2012 to 2015, and yet the population grew from a minimum of 809 in 2012 to a minimum of 866 in 2016.

“I’m wondering how that same data, when plugged into your peer-reviewed models — the ones predicting dire straits — how does it play out with that data from 2012 to 2015?” Kazmierski said.

Treves said he had lacked time to run those numbers, but would get back to the Board once he did.

For some reason, however, Kazmierski, Prehn, Bruins and Hilgenberg didn’t try discrediting the DNR’s experts or their science. The DNR publicly listed seven factors from February’s hunt that justified its conservative quota. It also publicly presented the NRB seven pages of data and peer-reviewed science to explain its quota.

The NRB’s majority didn’t challenge that real science. After all, that would require careful reading and analytical thinking.

The four amigos seldom show they’re up to such labor.

Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board set an aggressive 300-wolf quota for this fall’s hunting and trapping season, which is scheduled to begin Nov. 6. — Nick Perdiew photo

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