Its Time to End Wisconsin’s War on Wolves

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Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Washburn District, December 29th, 2016

Northern Wisconsin remains a battleground for federally protected gray wolves, with two separate fights between hunting hounds and wolves occuring on December 23rd & 24th. While hunting bears with hounds ended in October, the practice of hound hunting in wolf territory continues, only now for coyote and bobcat.

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Bobcat kitten treed by hounds in Wisconsin.

 

National media attention, in part due to Wolf Patrol’s monitoring of hound hunting and bear baiting, has been drawn to the conflict between Wisconsin’s wolves and bear hunting hounds, with local media and anti-wolf supporters quick to frame the conflict as the consequence of a growing wolf population, although evidence suggests, that while wolves act biologically, filling available habitat, its human behavior that has led to the record number of bear hound deaths in 2016.

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Bear injured bear hound belonging to Koty Barth.

Last week’s wolf conflict left one hunting hound dead, and three injured. Thus, 2016 has seen more fights between free-roaming hunting hounds and wolves, than in any year previous, with the final count being 41 hounds killed by wolves, and 10 injured. To date, the only response from the DNR in regards to these preventable conflicts, is to continue to compensate hound hunters to the tune of $2,500 from the state’s Endangered Species Fund, and continue to allow hound hunters to run their dogs in Wolf Caution Areas, including non-residents with no special license requirements.

 

Since the successful natural return of wolves to Wisconsin in the 1980’s (wolves were not reintroduced, they migrated from surviving populations in northern Minnesota), human hunters have had to come to terms with sharing prey populations with natural predators. As in the Yellowstone ecosystem, (where wolves were reintroduced), previous to the wolf’s return, hunters had a field day regulating prey populations that existed in a vacuum without the natural predation that had existed naturally for centuries.

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Wisconsin wolf pack.

With the return of the wolf, deer and other prey animals have been effected, not only in the number of animals killed, but also through the return of more evasive behavior. That means that herds of deer peacefully grazing in the open where wolves live, is a thing of the past. Deer in Wisconsin previously had only the nine-day deer season to contend with, but now, they are hunted by their natural predator, the gray wolf, year-around. And despite claims that “wolves are eating all the deer” the 2016 deer hunting season in northern Wisconsin saw a record harvest in many counties, reinforcing the scientifically proven fact that predators help, they don’t hurt, prey populations.

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Wolf Patrol is responding to Wisconsin’s unregulated hound hunting practices in wolf territory, by continuing to monitor both wolf and hound hunting activities in known Wolf Caution Areas throughout the winter, as part of the DNR’s volunteer carnivore tracking program. Last year, Wolf Patrol trackers conducted numerous tracking surveys, that helped contribute to the current estimate of Wisconsin’s wolf population, which is estimated to be 866-897 animals, living in approximately 222 packs.

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Sunset in Wolf Caution Area.

Wolf Patrol conducts its survey in an area of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest that is popular amongst bear baiters and hound hunters, which means it also has a history of multiple conflicts between gray wolves and hunting hounds. In the 2016 bear hound training season and hunting seasons, six bear hounds were killed in the area that Wolf Patrol surveys. As part of a larger investigation, Wolf Patrol is also cataloging bear bait locations in our survey area. We believe as published research suggests, that gray wolves are becoming conditioned to using bait sites as feeding locations, thus setting the stage for many more conflicts with hunting hounds or any dog that trespasses their territory.

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Wolf/bear hound fights in tracking area during 2016.

On December 27th, we began our first tracking survey of the season, concentrating on Wolf Caution Areas within our tracking block, which are established once a depredation has occurred. Wolf Patrol’s trackers covered 35.5 miles of snow-covered roads, in areas where last year we tracked numerous wolves. Only one lone wolf track was found, one bobcat trail, and numerous deer crossings. No other human activity was detected.

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Lone wolf tracks found on tracking survey.

On December 28th, we carried out a second survey that encompassed 25.5 miles of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, and this time recorded multiple coyote tracks in addition to deer and rabbit trails. In addition, we followed the trail of three hunting hounds, which were dropped in the heart of a Wolf Caution Area on U.S. Forest Service road 251, and followed the road for 12 miles until they were recovered by hound hunters. No recent wolf tracks were recorded.

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Bobcat hound hunters from Koty Barth’s Facebook page.

Currently, hound hunting for coyote and bobcat is allowed in Wisconsin, with there being a year-round open season for coyote, and bobcat hunting allowed from mid-October until the end of January. Most coyote and bobcat hound hunting occurs after the first snowfall, when tracking animals becomes much easier. While the DNR’s large carnivore tracking program is focused on recording the number of gray wolves in the state, Wolf Patrol is also recording hound hunting activity in our tracking block, in part because we suspect illegal killing of wolves is taking place in Wolf Caution Areas throughout northern Wisconsin. We believe this because many hound hunters, especially those who have lost dogs to wolves, have publicly stated their intention to kill every wolf they encounter.

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Message from Wisconsin bear hunter threatening to kill wolves.

 

On December 14th, I was contacted by a bear hunter who had a hound killed by wolves on September 17th, and others injured outside of Minong, Wisconsin in nearby Washburn County. I was sent a photo of his dead dog and he wanted to let me know that he wished my own pet dog would also be killed by wolves. Wolf Patrol began investigating the depredation incident as well as the bear hunter, and this is what we’ve found. On September 17, 2016, Koty Barth was running his pack of four Plott hounds with his father on a bear’s trail about two miles east of Minong, near Frog Creek, when according to the hound hunters, the dogs were ambushed by a pack of wolves. The wolves killed one hound and injured two others which were left with bite marks, “all over their backs.”

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Conspiring to kill federally protected wildlife…on Facebook.

The next day Barth was on Facebook making a public proclamation that he was intending to kill the wolves responsible for the depredation. In addition, another hound hunter, Benji Schommer, informed Barth of where he had recently seen wolf sign, and acknowledged that wolves had been visiting his bear baits on multiple occasions. On September 18th, Barth also changed his Facebook profile picture to a graphic that depicts a wolf in the crosshairs of a firearm with the words, “One Shot, One Kill.”

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Death threat against federally protected wildlife.

Threats like these aren’t being made by wolf haters far away, they are being made by northern Wisconsin residents who regularly run hounds in wolf territory throughout the year, and are adept at taking advantage of the inability of federal and state wildlife officers being able to patrol all the areas used by hound hunters in Wisconsin.

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Koty Barth’s hounds tearing into a bobcat.

These threats are being documented and reported to the federal agency responsible for protecting wolves, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, but no increased enforcement has been reported, nor has there been any communication that these threats are being taken seriously. It appears that federal authorities want to simply wash their hands with the management of gray wolves, now that they have successfully recolonized Wisconsin, and are hoping legal battles will soon return wolves to state management by the DNR.

Hounders monitored by Wolf Patrol brandish their trophy, collected south of Clear Lake, WI on 12/03/14.

Wolf Patrol believes that the Wisconsin DNR is not capable of responsibly managing the wolf population of Wisconsin. We support DNR conservation officers responsible for the enforcement of wildlife laws, and the many good biologists responsible for providing an accurate assessment of gray wolf populations in the state, but the agency’s lack of regulations governing bear baiting and hound hunting is creating conditions that will continue to lead to many more fights between hunting hounds wolves.

Wolf Patrol believes it is the intention of Wisconsin DNR to address the hound/wolf conflict once state management of wolves is returned, by not only re-instating the hunting, trapping and hounding for gray wolves, but also increasing the yearly quota, in an attempt to drive down wolf numbers. The DNR’s hands are tied by legislative action that mandates that they must enact a wolf hunt, including allowing for the use of dogs.

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December 2015 DNR Wolf Advisory Group meeting.

In addition, both the DNR’s Wolf & Bear Advisory Councils are filled with members who have publicly stated that unless a wolf hunt is allowed, wolves will overrun the state and destroy the deer population. There has also been talk that unless state control of wolves is given to Wisconsin, frustrated anti-wolf advocates will take matters into their own hands and increase illegal poisoning and killing of federally protected wolves.

Wolf Patrol is calling on wolf advocates from not just Wisconsin, but all over the world to contact the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and respectfully request that they address the DNR’s hunting practices that are creating a record number of conflicts with federally protected gray wolves and that such practices as bear baiting, hound training and hunting constitute harassment of an endangered species and should be banned on all federal public lands.

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December 2016 tracking survey in Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

Wolf Patrol will be continuing its tracking surveys and monitoring of hound hunting activity in Wisconsin throughout the winter and want to thank all of our supporters who helped make 2016 another year that we were able to provide additional protection to the returning wolves of Wisconsin.

Let’s make 2017 the last year bear baiting, hound training and hunting is legal on our national forest lands, and lets continue to fight for the return of wolves to suitable habitat, not only in Wisconsin, but the entirety of their historic range.

To send your comment to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, please visit:

https://www.fws.gov/duspit/contactus.htm

SAMPLE COMMENT:

I would like to know what is being done in the state of Wisconsin to address the growing number of death threats being made on gray wolves by hound hunters, especially those who have had dogs killed by wolves due to the state’s liberal hunting policies that allow for dogs to be run throughout the state, including by non-residents without any permit requirements. The growing number of hound hunters flocking to Wisconsin now that the state’s Department of Natural Resources does not require permits for bear baiting and/or hound training means many more fights between wolves and hunting hounds will continue. I believe such hunting practices constitute the harassment of federally protected endangered species, and should not be allowed on federal lands.”

Please be respectful! This is the agency responsible for gray wolves, not the agency responsible for Wisconsin’s unregulated bear hunting practices.

Wisconsin Bear Hunters Responsible for 36 Dog Fights with Federally Protected Wolves

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08/13/16: Bear hound training party encountered in Bayfield County Wolf Caution Area, near Sunken Camp Lakes, Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

Since Wisconsin’s 2016 bear hound training season began in July, there have been a record number of violent encounters between gray wolves and bear hunting hounds across the northern third of the state. With bear hunting season now over, according to Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR), a total of 37 bear hounds were killed by wolves with another seven injured, in 36 separate incidents, mostly on public lands.

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Of those 36 dog fights, 17 occurred in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest (CNNF), where Wolf Patrol has been investigating and monitoring bear hunting practices such as hound hunting and bear baiting. A total of 21 bear hounds were killed in the CNNF, with the majority killed in previously designated Wolf Caution Areas, illustrating the trend that despite knowledge that wolves have become aggressive towards intruding domestic dogs, bear hunters are continuing the deadly practice of running their dogs through known Wolf Caution Areas (WCA).

Both during the bear hound training season, and the actual hound hunt for bear, Wolf Patrol documented the continued running of hounds in WCA’s. DNR officials act baffled when asked about the increase in deadly encounters between bear hounds and wolves, but what’s not being talked about is how the removal this year, of the Class B License requirement to run hounds on bear, has resulted in an unmeasurable increase in the number of bear hounds being run on public lands in Wisconsin.

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DNR map of bear hound depredations July-October 2016

Predictably, bear hunters are blaming wolves for the increase in depredations, saying unchecked numbers are to blame. Yet, in 2012, when Wisconsin’s wolf population was near what it is now, only seven bear hounds were killed by wolves. Also, the removal of the Class B license requirement threw the barn door open to out-of-state hound hunters who flocked to the state this Summer to run their dogs on bears, when it is illegal to do so in their own home state. With no Class B License requirement, the DNR has no way of estimating just how many bear hounds were run this year in Wisconsin.

And its not just the use of hounds to hunt bear that’s causing problems, its minimally regulated bear baiting as well. In the majority of national forests across the country, the feeding of bears is strictly prohibited, while in Wisconsin according to the DNR’s own survey, an estimated 4.6 million gallons of bait is dumped in over 82,000 bear baits statewide. There is no limit on the number of baits an individual can maintain, nor are they required to report their location to local wardens, making enforcement difficult if not impossible.

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Bear baits documented by Wolf Patrol in 2016 Wolf Caution Areas.

Human activities are to blame for the record-breaking number of fights between wolves and bear hounds, not normal wolf behavior on lands where they are supposed to be federally protected. The practice of hunting bears with dogs and bait on national forest lands and elsewhere is conditioning large predators to expect food from humans and causing wolves to aggressively attack domestic animals to protect their young pups.

Its now time for all the people who disagree with DNR’s liberal bear hunting practices, and the legal battle to return Wisconsin’s wolves to state control, to speak up. While we may have little hope of changing Wisconsin’s state-endorsed practice of hunting bear with hounds and bait, we can ask U.S. Forest Service officials to ban these reckless practices on our national forest lands.

Public land managers should not fall for the bear hunter’s ploy of creating a problem, and then using it to demand greater access to kill federally protected wildlife on public lands. Our national forests exist for the enjoyment of all, not one special interest group, whose behavior is impacting not only wildlife, but other people’s ability to enjoy it.

From Wisconsin Depratment of Natural Resources:

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US Forest Service Responds to Call for Action on Commercial Bear Hunters

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U.S. Forest Service & Wolf Patrol in Wolf Caution Area.

Last year, Wolf Patrol began a campaign to end bear baiting and bear hound training & hunting in the Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest (CNNF), with a focus on areas with a history of conflict between bear hounds and wolves. Since then, Wolf Patrol has reported multiple instances of illegal baiting and other illegal activity carried out by bear hunters on national forest lands. This Summer, we predicted there would be more conflicts between bear hunters and wolves, and so far there have been 33 such violent encounters between bear hounds and federally protected gray wolves in northern Wisconsin.

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Red dots indicate where a bear hound/wolf fight has occurred this year.

And while bear hunters use their reckless practice of running hounds through known wolf territory when packs are known to be the most aggressive, as a premise to demand a reduction in wolf numbers, Wolf Patrol has called on the U.S. Forest Service and Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to do something to address these preventable conflicts in known Wolf Caution Areas.

Wolf Patrol’s announcement that we would continue to patrol bear hunting activities during opening weekend of the hound hunt in Wisconsin resulted in national media attention to the conflict between bear hunters and wolves: http://www.wpr.org/wolf-advocates-bear-hunters-take-woods

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Bear hounds in Wolf Caution Area.

In response to our legal campaign to monitor hunting activities that we believe negatively impact wolves, such as bear baiting and hound hunting, the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association and others lobbied for legislation that would make such monitoring of public land usage illegal. The law passed, but this month during the opening weekend of the hound hunt for bear in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, it wasn’t Wolf Patrol that the U.S. Forest Service was concerned about.

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Anti-wolf license plate on bear hunter’s truck.

 

Opening day of the hound hunt for bear, found Wolf Patrol in an area of the CNNF that we have been patrolling for over a year now, due to its heavy usage by bear hunters. We focused our attention on the exact areas where wolves killed bear hounds recently, patrolling US Forest Service roads surrounding those locations. Not surprisingly, we encountered numerous hound trucks loaded with dogs, who were actively releasing dogs in areas where others had been recently killed.

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Bear hunting party in CNNF Wolf Caution Area.

Previous to the hound hunt, I was contacted by a bear hound hunter who ran his dogs in the CNNF. This Summer, one of his dogs was injured by wolves, but he believes a death was prevented because of his quick response. Our discussion lead to the recognition of certain measures and practices that all hound hunters should take, if they are determined to run their dogs in wolf territory. One of these, was the practice of placing small cow bells (known as “wolf bells”) on the collars of your dogs. This individual told me that none of his dogs outfitted with wolf bells has ever ran into wolves.

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Bear hound with wolf bell.

The same day, my crew obtained two dozen wolf bells and spread the word amongst the bear hunters we had been in contact with, that we would supply wolf bells free of charge to anyone hunting in a Wolf Caution Area. Although we are opposed to hound hunting in Wolf Caution Areas, we are committed to doing anything we can to help prevent future conflicts between wolves and bear hounds.

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Releasing a bear hound.

On the second day of the hound hunt, bear hounds running in a Wolf Caution Area established following the death of a bear hound on August 29, ran into the same pack, resulting in another fight that left one more bear hound dead. Following the September 15 conflict, Wolf Patrol investigated the area and found active bear baits close to where the attack occurred, bolstering our belief that wolves are becoming habituated to bear bait sites that attract deer and other wildlife. On September 17, another bear hound was killed in the exact same area.

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Investigating a bear bait where a hound was just killed by wolves.

Later that same day, Wolf Patrol was visited in the field by USFS law enforcement officers (LEO’s) who wanted to check in with our crew. On September 16th, we noticed for the first time, USFS LEO’s patrolling the area also. We saw that they were pulled over talking to a bear hunting party, so we pulled over across the intersection in case the LEO’s wanted to talk to us too. They didn’t, so we continued our patrol. But this time I took the opportunity to introduce my crew to the LEO’s and explain why we believed our presence was warranted during the hound hunt for bear.

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Map showing Wolf Caution Areas during hound hunt patrol.

None of Wolf Patrol’s activities were called into question by the USFS LEO’s we spoke to, instead we were advised of other ways we could help provide assistance the these federal officers who were brought in to patrol the bear hunt, following the national media attention the hunt was attracting. And while the DNR’s Chief Warden advised bear hunters to call 911 if they came into conflict with Wolf Patrol, neither the USFS, DNR or Bayfield County Sheriff’s Department responded to any such calls.

Instead, I was personally contacted by local and regional DNR conservation officers, requesting assistance, of which we provided as well as having a conversation with the U.S. Forest Service’s Chief LEO for the area of the CNNF that we patrol. I was given a warning for posting Wolf Caution Area signs on U.S. Forest Service bulletin boards in Wolf Caution Areas without permission, for which I apologized and promised to obtain permission for before we did it again. But the conversation grew into a discussion of how the Chief LEO has worked with groups like Wolf Patrol in other national forests, and was receptive to a similar relationship with Wolf Patrol in the future.

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Ten pounds of caramel in exposed bear bait within CNNF Wolf Caution Area.

While Wolf Patrol would like to see the practice of bear baiting and hound hunting ended in Wolf Caution Areas, we know this is not something that will change overnight, or maybe even at all. But what we were happy to see was an increased presence by federal law enforcement, in areas where federally protected wolves have been threatened by bear hunters this year. Our crew saw at least three separate USFS LEO patrol vehicles, one marked, two unmarked. Coupled with our own patrol vehicles, there were five separate vehicles patrolling hound hunters in the Wolf Caution Areas we set out to patrol.

On September 21, I was informed by a DNR conservation officer that the USFS had made a decision to begin to implement a Special Permit requirement for commercial bear baiters and hound hunters in the Washburn District of the CNNF, where Wolf Patrol was requesting change to existing policy. I contacted the U.S. Forest Service ranger for the Washburn, and it was confirmed that CNNF officials had began discussions that will lead to a new strategy and plan for managing commercial hunting activities such as bear baiting and hound hunting in the CNNF.

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Gathering data on another illegal bear bait.

This is a victory. The U.S. Forest Service has recognized that an increase in bear baiting and hound hunting in the CNNF is causing problems. They have also opened the door to Wolf Patrol, and recognized that we represent many people who recreate on national forest lands, and who are opposed to the practice of intentionally feeding large predators so they become accustomed to human handouts.

We ended our patrol last week with a commitment towards working together, not just with the DNR and U.S. Forest Service, but anyone including bear hunters themselves, who recognize that there is a need for greater regulation of bear hunting activities in Wisconsin. We also remain committed however to our principal constituents, the wolves of Wisconsin, for whom we endeavor to always help return to their rightful place on America’s landscape.

And while it saddens us that over 4,000 black bears will be legally killed with the aid of hounds and bait in Wisconsin, we recognize that change will only come when more and more individuals become invested in helping public land managers do their jobs. It’s time to stop pointing fingers, and time to start providing pragmatic solutions. And while recent changes to U.S. Forest Service policy only address commercial hunting activities, it is undeniably a step in the right direction.

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U.S. Forest Service LEO’s to Wolf Patrol: “Keep up the good work!”

But opposition to bear baiting and hound hunting isn’t only needed at the time of conflict, we need others to join us in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest to help provide more data on these hunting practices and others that impact wolves. Wolf Patrol will be continuing its monitoring of bear baiting in the CNNF, and will once again be participating in the DNR’s annual large carnivore survey in Wisconsin wolf territory. Please contact us if you would like to be a part of positive change for wolves and other wildlife in Wisconsin!

OPENING DAY 2016 WISCONSIN BEAR BAITING SEASON

 

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Yesterday, September 7, was the opening day of the bear hunt in Wisconsin, with hunting over bait being the legal method. The weather was heavy with rain and fog, but hunters were out in large numbers and are beginning to report on their kills.

Our intention with posting these photos isn’t to vilify the people responsible for killing these bears, its to illustrate the deadly results from hunting practices Wolf Patrol believes are also responsible for at least 26 violent encounters between wolves and bear hounds this Summer. All, so folks can have a greater chance of killing a trophy bear.

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Judging from many of the photos we are seeing, once again its looking like a lot of smaller bears are being killed. We are not accusing anyone of killing cubs, which is illegal, but we are reminding hunters to wait at least 20 minutes before shooting any bear visiting your bait, to allow any cubs that might be following, indicating a nursing mother (sow), which is also illegal to kill.

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Coincidentally, a gray wolf was reported killed by a vehicle on Highway 2, in northern Wisconsin, where we also received reports of illegal baiting. Wolf Patrol has been informed by DNR conservation officers that the wolf was picked up at 0830am, and as is standard practice with roadkill wolves, we are expecting will be necropsied.

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Wolves are also regularly visiting bait sites, as many trail camera pictures from northern Wisconsin are indicating this Summer, so bear hunters sitting over baits are reminded that it is a federal offense to kill a wolf, and Wolf Patrol continues to offer a $2,500.00 REWARD for information that leads to the conviction of anyone illegally killing a federally protected gray wolf.

 

As always, anyone who does not want to contact DNR themselves, can contact Wolf Patrol who can protect your anonymity, and ensure that your tip reaches the appropriate authorities.

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The Big Business of Bear Baiting in Wisconsin

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A commercial bear bait supplier in Ladysmith, Wisconsin.

“I bought a trailer load of 10,000 pounds of licorice, parked it in my garage, ran an ad in the local shopper and sold it all.” says one of the largest bear bait suppliers in Minnesota who sells about three million pounds of bait per year to bear hunters in Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Maine. According to the most recent survey in 2014, Wisconsin bear hunters dumped an estimated 4,639,700 gallons of bear bait in over 82,340 bait sites, much of it on public lands.

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Bear baiting is not a sport. It’s a business. And with the start of bear hunting season over bait which begins today, millions of gallons of fryer grease, cake icing, caramel, syrup and other human food waste will be dumped in the north woods of Wisconsin to attract bears. But bears aren’t all that is being attracted to these dump sites, many on public lands, federally protected wolves, deer, raccoon and other wildlife are becoming conditioned to expect food handouts from humans as well.

Anyone unaccustomed to bear hunting “tactics” in Wisconsin would be forgiven for believing that such dangerous practices are highly regulated by any governing wildlife agency, such as the case in Minnesota and Michigan, where bear baiting is only allowed a few weeks before hunting season and baiters are required to register their bait sites with local wardens. Such is not the case in Wisconsin, where the Department of Natural Resources allows hunters to dump as much food as they want in the forests, beginning in mid-April until the end of bear season in mid-October. Registration of sites? Not required in Wisconsin.

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From Wisconsin Bear Hunting online forum.

The lack of any truly substantial regulation of bear baiting in Wisconsin has led to a wildlife nightmare, where the natural balance of our public lands is thrown heavily out of whack, all so Wisconsin hunters can kill thousands of bears annually, easily and legally. Last year, 4,198 black bears were legally killed in Wisconsin. Of those, 3,478 were killed over bait, or with dogs tracking bear from bait sites. The only thing different in 2016, is that starting today, more bears will be killed. The statewide quota is set at 4,750 animals.

 

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Bear baiting is rampant in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

The huge gaps in standard forms of hunting regulations and bear baiting has led to a boom in selling human food waste as bear bait. Bear bait suppliers readily find sellers in the factories that produce the food, which are sometimes factory close-outs, outdated, off-color or misshapened. The food waste is sold by the semi-load to bear bait suppliers, who turn around and create their own blends and mixes that they believe will condition bears to readily expect food from humans.

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Online ad for Wisconsin bear bait by the shovel load.

In most hunting, altering the natural habits of your prey to increase your chances of success is considered unsporting and downright unethical. But in Wisconsin, it is encouraged. And if simply dumping millions of gallons of food in the forest is not enough to condition bears, one of the preferred tactics is called “banging the bucket.”

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A typical Wisconsin bear baiters “kitchen”

Bear hunters say it best themselves: “…experienced guides swear by this trick. Bears aren’t stupid; they understand that the bait site is not a naturally occurring phenomenon, and that humans are the reason for the smorgasbord in the middle of the woods. After filling the bait station, bang hard on the bucket a few times. Chances are, the bears that are frequent flyers are bedded within earshot and it will create a “Pavlov’s Dog” type of effect. The bears will associate human activity on the bait site with food, and if they hear you enter the woods during open hunting hours, they will relate it to food instead of fear.” Taken from a recent bear hunting online forum.

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The statement that bear baiters are striving to condition bears to associate humans with food, not fear, should be alarming to public lands managers. Anywhere you travel on U.S. Forest Service land outside of the midwest, you will be told repeatedly, that a fed bear is a dead bear, because once a bear has become conditioned to associate food with humans, they are destroyed because of the threat they pose to public health and safety. Not in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, where it is only illegal to bait for bears if you DO NOT intend to kill them.

In Wisconsin, bear hunters are encouraged to make their own bait too, from waste oil collected from restaurants, “Grease is great! It’s widely available (many restaurants and fast-food chains change oil supplies daily), and it’s handy (mixes conveniently with wheat and oats in a five-gallon bucket). Moreover, get grease on the pads of baited bears, and you’ll advertise your bait’s location to the rest of the clan.” One such individual bear baiter online said he goes through thirty 55gallon drums of bait each season.

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Fryer grease for baiting bears being sold on Craigslist Northern Wisconsin.

Encouraging or allowing non-target animals to feed from bear baits is illegal, but every bear baiter knows it happens, and it only took a day of researching online bear hunting forums to discover that it is indeed a regular practice, “When you first start the bait, leave the stump open, so the scent of the bait can get into the air, and the “Little Critters”can drag some bait around leaving a scent trail.Another trick I employ,is to pour corn syrup on the nearby trail.The animals get this “sticky stuff” on their feet, and wherever they travel,they leave a scent trail to your bait!”

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Gray wolf feeding off of bear bait in northern Wisconsin.

Wolf Patrol has been reporting illegal bear baiting practices to DNR for over a year now, but the practice is still continuing. During the 2015 Wisconsin bear hunt, I had a conversation with the DNR’s Chief Conservation Officer, in regards to exposed bait we were discovering throughout the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. He said that as long as the bait was covered initially, bear baiters are not responsible or libel for other wildlife feeding from such spilled bait.

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From Wisconsin DNR’s bear baiting regulations.

But the lack of regulation and enforcement of bear baiting is contributing to the violent conflict between gray wolves and bear hunting hounds, which are routinely released near bait sites. This Summer, 26 such bear hounds were killed by wolves, before the hunting season even began. Why are so many wolves choosing to occupy lands being baited for bear? Its simple, they are beginning to identify the bait sites as a food source of their own or as an attractant for prey animals such as deer.

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Bear hunting hound visiting bait site during this year’s training season.

Bear baiting isn’t helping. Just listen to what these bear baiters say is their standard practice: “I took a brand new paint brush and simply smeared the peanut butter and cake frosting all over the trees and stumps around my bait site. Keep in mind that this counts towards your 10 gallon limit, and also, DO NOT put it on any trees that you wouldn’t want damaged, like oaks or apple trees. I found that the peanut butter oil seeps into the bark and stays through rain for months afterwards. Coon and bear will lick, claw, and chew these spots on the trees, sometimes killing the tree in the process.”

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Craigslist ad reported to DNR by Wolf Patrol.

Another bear baiter says, “Throw grease all over the bait site. The grease soaks into every leaf, tree, stump and log in the area. When you enter the woods, the smell of grease is lingering throughout the canopy. Bears that visit the bait site will have greased soaked into their pads and the thick fur on their legs and feet. Upon leaving the bait/area and tracking grease all over the woods, they are creating a Hansel and Gretel bread crumb trail, for other nomad bears to follow.”

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Chocolate, which is known to be toxic to both wolves and bears, is regularly and legally sold as bear bait.

The response from bear hunters whose hounds have been killed as a result of bear baiting and hound training isn’t a commitment to clean up their act, its to demand another wolf hunt. Many of these same hunters are those who want federal protections lifted, so they can resolve these reported problems without having to give up their “sport.”

 

Wolf Patrol is respectfully requesting that DNR:

1.) Require the registration of bait sites.

2.) Place a limit on the number of bear baits allowed.

3.) Restrict the practices of bear baiting and hound training in known Wolf Caution Areas.

Wolf Patrol is also asking national forest managers to ban bear baiting & bear hound training in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

Please join us in our call for action to resolve this preventable mis-management of our public lands and wildlife. You can also join us in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest on September 14, when we will be patrolling known Wolf Caution Areas during the hound hunt for bear.

The Great Lakes Wolf Plummet

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Wolf captured on bear bait trail camera.

Don’t ever believe wolves are protected just because a lawyer or judge said so. In Wisconsin, bear hunting practices such as baiting and hounding (most of it on public lands) has created a major conflict with wolves. Not only are bear hunting hounds routinely invading rendezvous areas and den sites and fighting to the death, but these dogs’ owners also have a vendetta against wolves, even though they are paid up to $2,500.00 for their loss from the state’s Endangered Species Fund.

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Hounds chasing bear during training season.

Since gray wolves were returned to federal protection in December 2014, Wolf Patrol has documented a rise in online threats against wolves. We also uncovered three illegal baiting sites intended for wolves and other predators, last winter on the eve of an organized hound hunt for coyotes in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. And now with 25 bear hunting hounds dead from wolves during this year’s two-month training season, we believe the wolves of northern Wisconsin are facing as great a threat as they did when they were legally hunted.

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Facebook poaching threats following bear hound depredations.

Since Wolf Patrol began documenting bear baiting and hound hunting practices in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in the Summer of 2015, we’ve uncovered legal practices that researchers say are contributing to violent encounters between wolves and hunting dogs. An early bear hound training season when wolves are most active, the annual dumping of millions of gallons of grease and food waste in wolf territory, dozens of active bear baits in the areas where bear hounds have been killed, as many unregistered bait sites as a hunter can handle, these are all human behaviors that we believe are putting wolves and humans at risk.

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Wolf Patrol believes that the DNR needs to impose more restrictions, such as prohibiting bear hound training in Wolf Caution Areas and restricting the dumping of food for bears on national forest lands. Yet, whenever I have a conversation with bear hunters about wolves, it always ends with the attitude that, if wolves cannot be hunted, we will take matters into our own hands. Never has there been the attitude that maybe their behavior in the national forests and other public lands needs to be cleaned up. Instead they lobbied for a law that would make documenting their bear baiting and hound hunting activities illegal.

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Adam Jarchow, author of The Right to Hunt Act at Governor Scott Walker’s signing of bill into law at this year’s Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association’s annual conference.

Last winter, at the DNR’s Wolf & Bear Advisory Council meeting, I heard mention that during the state’s three wolf hunting seasons, bear hunters who also trapped, were pooling their wolf tags, and going after entire packs that had killed their hounds. Whether this is happening anyhow, is a good question (considering that’s what some of these guys are saying on Facebook right now) but this is what Adam Jarchow, Tom Tiffany and the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association want to be legal again.

Indigenous Wolf Hunt Protestors

If you don’t believe me, go to the Great Lakes Wolf Plummet, oops, I mean Summit to hear it for yourself, or better yet, join Wolf Patrol, and come visit the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest yourself on September 15, and see for yourself how these bear hunters want to manage gray wolves and our public lands.

Oh, and in case you were wondering if anyone from of any of ALL the Great Lakes tribes that are against wolf hunting were invited to speak at the conference…

Why Wolf Patrol Supports Wisconsin Conservation Officers

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I want other wildlife advocates to know how Wolf Patrol operates in case we ever actually change anything. One of our strategies is targeting illegal hunting practices by finding them in the field or online and then reporting them to wildlife law enforcers. I know they can’t do a damn thing about snares and traps that are legal, but if we see anyone violating the liberal laws that govern killing wildlife, we report it .

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Illegal baited fish hooks found in Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

Besides busting illegal hunters, what us doing this has done, in just two years, is create a relationship between Wolf Patrol and our Wisconsin DNR law enforcement contacts. For two years now, those very same wardens have heard bear and wolf hunters crying to them about Wolf Patrol “stalking and photographing” them on public lands, but what they’ve actually seen, is Wolf Patrol providing valuable tips that their often overworked and overstretched officers can’t possibly find on their own.

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Winter patrol in Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

One warden told me last month that they tell bear hunters, Wolf Patrol has a right to be out there as much as they did, and then told me, DNR wanted us out there, because we provide credible tips, some of them on guys they’ve been investigating for years.

So when we find an ad on Craigslist for bear bait in Wisconsin, advertising that it will also attract wolves in summer, we think something illegal is going on, but we maintain our protocol. We reported it, to the USFWS, to WI DNR’s hotline, and also to my own DNR contacts. Had we been told that it was indeed illegal, Wolf Patrol would have withheld reporting on it, as I’ve told DNR, we do not want to jeopardize any ongoing investigations into illegal hunting.

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After our tips to federal and state agencies, USFWS law enforcement emailed me back to thank Wolf Patrol for the tip, a DNR warden called me to say that there wasn’t anything illegal about the ad, but the email I received from my own DNR contact provided more of a detailed explanation. Once again, we were thanked for our support and communication, and it was explained that as long as the attractant being sold was being sold as bear bait, that it was legal. But our DNR contact said they’d be willing to have a talk with the seller anyhow, to clarify that baiting for wolves was indeed, illegal.

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Illegal hound hunter reported to DNR.

So while this particular bear baiter might not get cited, he will be talking to a warden, and you can be certain that they will keep him on their radar, and if any illegal wolf killing takes place in his baiting area, they will already have a suspect. And you can also be certain that this particular bear baiter will be talking to other bear baiters, and they will know that these days, its not just the DNR wardens you need to worry about, but Wolf Patrol as well.

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Bear hunter training hounds in Polk County.

To us, that’s a victory. And it cost us only the time it took to research baiting laws and sending a couple emails and posting a few things online. And most importantly, a willingness to get out into the field and find the truth. We’ve been researching and collecting data on bear baits for just over a year now, and we’ve find a valuable role that we can play as private citizens, to help preserve the integrity of our national forests and remind wildlife agencies and public land stewards, that its not just hunters that care about wildlife.

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Wolf Patrol investigating bear bait in Polk County.

Wolf Patrol works with law enforcement officers, who themselves were told two years ago that a convicted eco-terrorist and his gang, would be going into the Wisconsin woods and harassing wolf hunters. They were told that because 12 years ago, agents such as themselves were arresting me and my crew in Arizona, for interfering with a mountain lion hunt. I did ten months in federal prison for that one, and I don’t regret it, but we do need to break out of the shell that has people seeing us as extremists, and demonstrate a sincere “paws on the ground” commitment that we care about wildlife.

Its time we evolve as activists, and recognize that we accomplish little for wildlife when we always operate in attack mode, and viciously judge and name-call people who do things we disagree with. For me, that means sitting down with anyone who equally demonstrates a commitment to protecting wildlife, while at the same time spending more and more time in the wild places that I love and work in, so I can better understand the needs of the land and its inhabitants.

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Hound hunting for coyote & bobcat.

The people who enjoy killing wolves and bears with guns, traps, dogs and bait saw the danger in their sport being exposed to the public, so they organized and got The Right to Hunt Act passed in an effort to prevent Wolf Patrol from continuing its valuable work. People asked us, “What’s Wolf Patrol going to do now?” I told them, exactly what we’ve been already doing for the last two years, continue documenting illegal and legal hunting practices that we believe negatively impact federally protected wildlife, and work with the appropriate agencies to try and affect positive change.

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So rather than running from the law, Wolf Patrol is running to the law,  when those laws are the only recourse we presently have to protect wildlife. What others do is up to you, but this is one of the ways I’ve carved out a place for Wolf Patrol at a table that we were initially very unwelcome to. So if I, a convicted felon, with a criminal record as long as a cougar’s tail can team up with wardens to snare illegal hunters, just think what you might be able to do for the wild animals that you love and respect.

Happy Hunting!