MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources officials on Monday dramatically scaled back the number of wolves hunters can kill during the state's fall season in open defiance of its policy board, setting up another clash between liberal-leaning department leaders and conservative board members.
Department biologists originally recommended setting the quota at 130 wolves, saying they were uncertain what effects the state's spring hunt had on the wolf population. The policy board bumped the limit to 300 animals in August, prompting outrage from conservationists and wolf advocates. They've filed two lawsuits seeking to stop the hunt.
The DNR announced in a news release Monday that it was unilaterally moving the quota back to 130 animals. Under treaties established in the 1800s, the state's Chippewa tribes can claim up to half of the quota, but the Chippewa consider wolves sacred and won't hunt them. The DNR said the tribes have claimed 56 animals, leaving state-licensed hunters 74.
The DNR's defiance left board member Greg Kazmierski flabbergasted. He said state law makes clear that the board directs and supervises the department.
"They are not free to just do that," Kazmierski said. "It's in violation of the statute that establishes the board. They've gone rogue, is what they've done."
DNR spokeswoman Sarah Hoye didn't immediately respond to an email.
Tensions between the department and the board have been percolating for months. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers administration runs the department through a Cabinet secretary but the board, which oversees the department and approves its regulations, is controlled by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker's appointees.
Things came to a head in May when board Chairman Fred Prehn's term expired. Evers appointed Sandy Naas to replace him, a move that would give Evers appointees majority control of the panel. Prehn has refused to step down, saying he doesn't have to go anywhere until the state Senate confirms Naas. Republicans control the Senate and haven't made any moves toward a confirmation vote for her, ensuring conservatives maintain control of the board.
DNR officials told Prehn last month that they had no items to bring before the board at its September meeting and no one from the department would attend. Prehn canceled the meeting, accusing department officials of playing political games.
A message left at Prehn's office Monday afternoon wasn't immediately returned.