The News: Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Bennett J. Brantmeier issued a summary judgment decision in Hunter Nation v. DNR, a lawsuit brought by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) in February 2021, that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) decision to not immediately establish a hunting and trapping season for wolves in 2021 violated state statute and the state constitutional right to hunt. WILL filed a lawsuit against the DNR, on behalf of Hunter Nation and their CEO Luke Hilgemann, when the state agency refused to schedule a winter 2021 gray wolf hunt when the wolf was removed from the Endangered Species List.
Judge Brantmeier issued a writ of mandamus on February 11, compelling the DNR to hold a wolf hunt before March 2021. Today’s ruling requires DNR to permanently comply with state requirements.
The Quotes: WILL Deputy Counsel, Anthony LoCoco, said, “It is now crystal clear that DNR violated state law when it refused to undertake its obligation to schedule a winter 2021 wolf hunt in the wake of the federal government’s decision to de-list the gray wolf from the Endangered Species List. State agencies cannot pick and choose when to follow state law.”
“Today’s historic ruling solidifies Wisconsin’s constitutional right to hunt and our statutory wolf hunt requirements. This case will go down as one of the most important legal victories ever achieved for the hunters of Wisconsin,” said Luke Hilgemann CEO/President of Hunter Nation. “We thank our partners at WILL for their legal expertise and hard work which helped achieve this victory and look forward to continuing to work with them to protect our hunting traditions in the future.”
Background: The United States Fish and Wildlife Service proposed removing the gray wolf from protection under the Endangered Species Act in March 2019. On November 3, 2020, US Fish and Wildlife promulgated a final rule to delist the gray wolf effective January 4, 2021.
Wisconsin state law is clear that if the gray wolf is not protected by the Endangered Species Act, the Wisconsin DNR “shall allow the hunting and trapping of wolves.” The law further states that DNR must “establish a single annual open season for both hunting and trapping wolves that begins on the first Saturday in November of each year and ends on the last day of February of the following year.”
But the Wisconsin DNR, despite years of advance warning and months to prepare for a January 2021 delisting of the gray wolf, refused to permit the hunting and trapping of wolves in January and February of 2021.
WILL’s lawsuit alleged DNR’s decision to forgo a gray wolf hunt until November 2021 violated state law and the Wisconsin state constitution’s guarantee of a right to hunt. Once the gray wolf was delisted on January 4, Wisconsin DNR had an obligation to comply with state law that permits the trapping and hunting of gray wolves for a season between November and February.
Judge Brantmeier issued a writ of mandamus ordering the Wisconsin DNR to hold a gray wolf hunt in February 2021 in accordance with state law.
Judge Brantmeier’s summary judgment decision says, “The DNR’s refusal to immediately establish an open season for the hunting and trapping of wolves through the end of February 2021, when the wolf was delisted between November 2020 and February 2021, violated” state law. The court also issued a permanent injunction “requiring the DNR, when the wolf is listed on the federal and/or state endangered lists on the first Saturday in November of a given year but is no longer on those lists as of a subsequent date occurring prior to the last day of February of the following year (delisted mid-season), to begin the single annual open season required by” state law.