Opinion: Wolf politics in Wisconsin have been contentious for a long time

Gray Wolf photograph credit Voyageurs Wolf Project.

The following is a comprehensive piece on Wisconsin’s recent wolf hunt. The Fraught Politics of Wolf Hunts by Jill Richardson from Counter Punch Jill Richardson is pursuing a PhD in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In late February, Wisconsin held a wolf hunt. Hunters shot over 200 wolves — 82 percent morethan the quota allowed.

The hunt occurred during wolves’ breeding season. It’s likely some of the wolves were pregnant, but we don’t know how many. As a result, the effect on Wisconsin’s wolf population could be even greater.

Why did this happen? Because a right-wing group sued and forced the hunt to go forward ahead of schedule.

State law requires that a wolf hunt is held between October 15 and the last day of February in any year wolves are not listed as endangered. Early this January, wolves were de-listed. The state had planned to hold its first hunt in November, allowing time for the appropriate planning.

But a judge agreed with the right-wing group that, by the letter of the law, the state had to hold a hunt before then. So this February they did — at the last minute, without planning or public or tribal input, during wolves’ breeding season, using hounds.

As a result, with the hunting methods allowed (86 percent of the wolves were taken by hounds) and the reporting requirements (hunters have up to 24 hours to report a kill), the kills racked up too fast for the state to respond in time.

As a Wisconsin resident, I am sad this happened. This just increased the polarization on an already polarized issue.

Across the country, hunting can be a major source of conflict among environmentalists who oppose hunting, hunters who want to hunt, and farmers and ranchers who want to protect their livestock.

This happens to be the issue I’m writing my dissertation on — but my research is on a much more hopeful case study. I study collaborative, participatory approaches to wildlife management. When everyone is at the table together, they can find ways to achieve everyone’s goals.

For example, in several western states, the environmental group Defenders of Wildlife will cover up to half the cost of electric fences for ranchers to help keep their livestock safe from grizzly bears.

The fences give ranchers peace of mind and keep livestock safe from grizzly bears. As a result, fewer bears are killed by humans. Both ranchers and environmentalists benefit by working together.

Environmentalists and hunters differ in some ways, but they share plenty of common ground. Both are often strong advocates of public land. And in Montana right now, hunting groups are organizing against bills in the legislature to allow trapping wolves with neck snares or bait. No doubt environmental groups stand on the same side of those issues.

Even when people disagree on some pretty big things (should wolves be hunted at all?), they can still find some mutual understanding. For example, we can agree that it’s better if wolves don’t eat people’s pets or livestock.

Even when you disagree, it’s still worth hearing the other side out. My research shows that collaboration requires listening, respecting, and being kind to one another. Think about it: how much do you listen to someone else if they don’t listen to you? Not much, probably.

When one group uses force to get their way at all costs — as happened in Wisconsin — the other side becomes angrier. It makes consensus even harder to reach. Collaboration requires trust, and trust is much harder to achieve once it has been violated.

Wolf politics in Wisconsin have been contentious for a long time, and what just happened set us back even more. It mirrors the polarization in the entire country, and it’s a shame. But the research is clear: The solutions are there, when we’re ready to work together.

Jill Richardson is pursuing a PhD in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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