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Coyote hunting contest draws complaints from environmental groups

Plans for a one-day coyote hunting contest near Crandon in northeastern Wisconsin are coming under fire from some environmental groups who are raising concerns that federally protected wolves might be killed in the process.

The hunt will offer prize money for the largest, smallest and most coyotes killed. It's one of a number of such competitions that hunters and the Department of Natural Resources say have been taking place for years.

Saturday's event, run out of a tavern in Argonne on the edge of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, caught the attention of representatives of the Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf, Sierra Club, Humane Society of the United States and the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups who criticized the contest element of the hunts.

"Killing for prize or trophy is not an adequate reason for hunting," said Melissa Smith, executive director of Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf. "It's unjustified and unsportsmanlike."

The groups also said they were worried that gray wolves could be shot or mauled by dogs that are often used in such hunts.

"I am worried that this just increases the risk of someone violating the endangered species law," Smith said.

Saturday's event has categories for hunters who use hounds and those who use calls to attract coyotes.

It is illegal to kill wolves in Wisconsin, although there were wolf hunting seasons in 2012, 2013 and 2014 that were used as a means to control the state's growing wolf population.

A federal judge in December 2014 struck down a decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove gray wolves from the endangered species list in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan — a ruling that also ended legalized hunts.

In November 2015, 26 scientists, including Dave Mech of the University of Minnesota and former DNR biologist Adrian Wydeven, now with the Timber Wolf Alliance, wrote the U.S. Interior Department and argued that wolf populations in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin had recovered and should be removed from the protected list.

Defenders of coyote hunting and coyote hunting contests emphasized the practice is legal — hunters can shoot the animals throughout the year and there is no bag limit. Some advocates say killing coyotes also is beneficial for the deer population and reduces livestock depredation.

Coyote hunting supporters said opponents might be raising the issue now, but the hunts have been part of Wisconsin rural life for years.

"This is something that these guys would be normally doing anyway," said Patrick Quaintance, a coyote hunter and president of the Wisconsin Association of Sporting Dogs.

Quaintance, a retired conservation warden with the DNR, said the threat to wolves is overblown.

About Lee Bergquist - Lee Bergquist covers environmental issues and is author of "Second Wind: The Rise of the Ageless Athlete." @leebergquist 414-224-2169