UW-Madison researchers estimate that hunters and poachers wiped out as much as a third of Wisconsin's gray wolf population after their removal from the federal endangered species list this year. (Photo via National Parks Service)
UW-Madison researchers estimate that hunters and poachers wiped out as much as a third of Wisconsin's gray wolf population after their removal from the federal endangered species list this year. (Photo via National Parks Service)

DNR Secretary to Walker appointee: “I’m out of order? You’re the one sitting in someone else’s chair!”

After February’s hastily put-together and botched wolf hunt in which hunters blew past the set quota within three days and researchers later found that over 100 more wolves were potentially poached, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) had recommended a quota of 130 wolves for a proposed fall wolf hunt. 

But its governing body—led by a Scott Walker appointee who refuses to vacate the position even though his term has expired—has decided to set the quota at more than double the DNR’s recommendation.

The National Resource Board (NRB) on Wednesday voted to increase the next wolf hunt quota to 300, allowing hunters to kill nearly half the number of remaining wolves as estimated by UW-Madison researchers. The board also ruled that if the DNR decides to amend the number based on data from February’s hunt, it will need board approval.

During his presentation over the proposal, Keith Warnke, the DNR fish, wildlife, and parks division administrator, pointed out that because Wisconsin held its previous hunt during the wolves’ breeding season, the department does not have updated data on the wolf population nor on the impact of the last hunt. 

The department recommended the NRB set the quota at 130, he said, in order to maintain the population at its current level. But during deliberation, some of the board members cited a goal of 350 in wolf management plans that were approved in 1999 and 2007, but which scientists have questioned for years. 

Over 1,000 comments were submitted ahead of the NRB’s Wednesday meeting and more than 55 people signed up to speak. Many wolf advocates advocated for a quota of zero, pointing out that the lack of data meant the DNR did not know what impact a quota, even one as low as 130, would have. Many also asked how the DNR could guarantee that hunters would not surpass the quota as they had during the last hunt. 

Some pro-hunt NRB members also said they wanted the higher quota because several tribal members had spoken in favor of a quota of zero, and with the February hunt, tribes did not hunt their legally allotted share of the quota. 

Board member Bill Smith objected to that line of reasoning, saying it was disrespectful of the department’s harvest goal and of the tribes’ treaty rights.

“If [the tribes] claim a quota, we need to honor that quota,” Smith said.

NRB Vice Chair Greg Kazmierski and board member Terry Hilgenberg batted around several numbers, ranging from 250 to 500, until the majority voted in favor of 300. 

After the final vote, DNR Secretary Preston Cole accosted NRB Chair Fred Prehn for refusing to give up his seat. Prehn, a longtime donor to Republican candidates and causes, was appointed by former Gov. Walker to a six-year term. All seven members of the board that sets policy for the DNR serve staggered six-year terms. His term officially expired May 1, and Evers announced the appointment of Sandra Dee Nass of Ashland on April 30. But Prehn claims he can stay in the position because the Republican-led state Senate has so far refused to confirm Nass. Cole said it was impossible to know what the outcome of the quota discussion would have been had Evers’ appointee been allowed to assume the seat.

“Now you know why he is sitting in this chair,” Cole said, referring to Prehn’s comments that appeared to be supportive of a high wolf kill. “It’s become clear every day that you’re putting your thumb on the scale.”

Prehn said Cole was out of order.

“I am out of order?” Cole said. “You are sitting in someone else’s chair.”

Sen. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) tweeted that he had attended the meeting and attempted to confront Prehn, but said Prehn refused to talk with him and told him to leave. 

“He was confirmed by the State Senate, so I have every right to talk with him,” Carpenter tweeted. “This Scott Walker appointment to the DNR Board expired months ago, but he refuses to step down so that he can maintain his influence over DNR decisions undemocratically.”