By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The state Department of Natural Resources policy board plans to vote next week on whether to hire its own attorneys in a pair of lawsuits seeking to block the fall wolf hunt, underscoring the deepening rift between the board’s Republican members and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul.
The department announced Friday that the board will convene remotely on Monday to take the vote. Board Chairman Fred Prehn said he’s not sure Kaul’s Department of Justice will represent board members’ pro-wolf management position in court because its attorneys aren’t talking to board members.
“We haven’t met with them, they haven’t talked to any board members or talked strategy,” Prehn said. “The board feels it’s not being consulted.”
DOJ spokeswoman Gillian Drummond said in an email to The Associated Press on Friday that the agency’s attorneys are communicating with Department of Natural Resources attorneys about the cases. She said a DOJ attorney will attend Monday’s meeting.
Prehn has been at odds with Evers since his term on the board expired in May. The governor appointed Sandra Naas to replace him, a move that would give Evers appointees majority control of the panel.
Prehn, who was appointed by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker, has refused to step down. He maintains he doesn’t have to leave until the Senate confirms Naas. Republicans control the Senate and have made no moves toward a confirmation vote, ensuring the board remains under GOP control.
Playing out alongside the political battle is a bitter fight over the fall wolf hunt. The board in August set the quota for the fall season at 300 animals, angering conservationists and American Indian tribes who are concerned that a late-winter hunt has left the wolf population too weak to sustain two seasons in one year.
A coalition of wildlife advocacy groups filed a lawsuit to block the fall hunt in Dane County Circuit Court in August. Six tribes filed a federal lawsuit last month seeking the same thing.
The DOJ is representing the board and the DNR in both lawsuits. A hearing in the state lawsuit is set for Thursday and a hearing in the federal lawsuit is set for Oct. 29. The wolf season is scheduled to begin Nov. 6.
DNR Secretary Preston Cole is an Evers appointee. Earlier this month the department took the unprecedented step of unilaterally reducing the wolf quota to 130 wolves in open defiance of the board.
On top of all that, Kaul has filed a lawsuit to force Prehn off the board. A Dane County judge dismissed the lawsuit last month, but Kaul has asked a state appellate court to reverse that decision. A ruling is pending.