How to Remove Bear Baits from Public Lands

 

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07/05/16: Illegal bear bait discovered in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

According to the most recent Department of Natural Resources (DNR) bear hunter survey, bear baiters in Wisconsin placed over 4.5 million gallons of bait in over 82,000 bait sites in 2014, much of it discarded fryer oil and human food waste, and much of it on public lands. Of the 52% respondents in that survey, most Class A & B permit holders (hunters and those licensed to assist…) baited their sites twice a week. Class B permit holders placed an average of 437 gallons, while Class A permit holders averaged 154 gallons.

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Another illegal bait found on USFS road 424.

That’s a lot of food waste and oil to be dumping on our national forest lands! Like many outdoor enthusiasts, I was raised on the ethic that feeding wildlife while your camping was a no-no, and feeding bears was definitely a bad idea. Feeding bears has led to many public safety issues for national forest managers and countless deadly encounters (mostly for the bears), when bears are conditioned to expect human hand-outs. Although its still legal in a handful of states like Wisconsin, bear baiting is a problem that is growing in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest (CNNF) as more and more people take advantage of Wisconsin’s liberal bear baiting regulations.

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Black bear visiting site of illegal bear bait.

Bear baiting is completely legal in Wisconsin. With a Class A or B license, anyone can clear some public forest land and start dumping food waste and oil at as many of these sites as you can (or can’t) manage. In northern Wisconsin from late June until mid-October, trucks and ATV’s loaded with 55 gallon barrels and five-gallon buckets of bait are plying the dirt roads of the CNNF, filling hollowed logs, holes in the ground or simply dumping on trees, fryer grease, pie filling and anything else they can get bears to come back and eat.

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Deer visiting illegal bear bait with exposed bait.

 

While Wolf Patrol reports on the impact these baits are having on not just bears, but wolves and bear hunting hounds, we are also discovering a very effective way of combatting illegal baits on public lands. Starting in June 2016, we began collecting data on bear baits in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Our hope is that with solid data that shows bear baiting is negatively impacting public lands and wildlife, national forest managers will do the right thing and end bear baiting in the CNNF.

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Out-of-state bear hunter/baiter near Hoist Lake, Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Wisconsin.

Until then, we are looking at active bear baiting sites in the national forest, especially those in DNR Wolf Caution Areas, and collecting data on the type of bait being used, how close they are to maintained roads and bear hound depredation sites, and when appropriate, reporting this information to DNR law enforcement when we suspect illegal bear baiting activity.

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Measuring a bear bait in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

Such was the case in July, when we were collecting data on bear baits in the Washburn District of the CNNF, on USFS Road 424, where on any weekend after July you can find loaded bear hound trucks driving slowly looking for signs of where bears have crossed the road to visit a bait. Wolf Patrol monitors are not tampering with baits, so our presence in the area isn’t a secret, we openly park where bear hunters park when refilling their baits, and walk designated trails to bait sites to measure the locations.

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Contents of illegal bear bait visible and accessible to other animals.

At the first site we visited on the morning of July 5, we immediately noticed that a large crevice in the bait log left the contents accessible to deer and other animals. Standing on the trail leading to the bait, we could easily see the bright colors of what would later be identified as Lucky Charms, the breakfast cereal. We took measurements and photographs, and proceeded to the next site.

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The path leading to a bear bait in the national forest.

We identify bear bait sites by driving less than 10mph on US Forest Service roads we have seen bear hunting trucks driving, looking for the tell tale sign of a human, not animal path. Humans walk flat-footed, (plantigrade), leaving an impression where they have repeatedly walked, as is the case on trails leading to bear baits. When we suspect a bait site, we pull over, and walk the trail. If its a bear bait, we’ll find the site within the first 100 yards. We have never found a bait site further, with the average distance being the legal minimum of 50 yards.

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The next three baits we visited on USFS RD 424, that we suspected were operated by the same bear baiter, were all less than fifty yards from the road. Not by much, but enough to make them questionable, its not Wolf Patrol’s job to determine what is legal or not, but once we identify any activity that is a clear violation of DNR bear baiting regulations, we will report it.

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Formerly active illegal bear bait, reported, now defunct and abandoned.

 

Within 24 hours of filing a report with DNR’s hotline, I was contacted by the Conservation Officer (game warden) for the area and questioned further. Wolf Patrol provided GPS coordinates, photographs and other evidence that helped DNR carry out its investigation.

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Cleaning up the site of abandoned bear bait.

 

On August 12, we returned to the sites of the reported bear baits and found them all to be abandoned. At the first site, the bait log with the crevice had been destroyed. We spent about 15 minutes cleaning up the broken fragments of the now defunct bait, picking up pieces of pink flagging left by the baiter, and essentially helping nature return the site to its original condition.

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Former illegal bear bait site.

 

Two years ago, Wolf Patrol didn’t know about bear baiting on public lands. Last year we discovered it, and this year, our efforts have led to the investigation and shutdown of bear baits that were active last month. Any citizen is encouraged to provide information on illegal hunting activity, and it is our hope that other members of the public will adopt their own bioregion, and begin patrolling Wisconsin’s public lands for illegal activity. We may not end bear baiting overnight, but with citizen vigilance, we can help bring illegal hunters to justice and reign in those who operate outside of public view.

The DNR’s 2014 Bear Hunter Survey can be found: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/wildlifehabitat/documents/reports/bbquest.pdf

Wisconsin’s Bear Baiting & Feeding: Regulations:http://dnr.wi.gov/files/pdf/pubs/wm/wm0457.pdf

Wolf Patrol’s Gofundme page:

https://www.gofundme.com/bk1big

18 Bear Hounds Killed by Wolves in Wisconsin’s Summer Training Season

 

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08/13/16: Two truckloads of bear hounds being trained in Wolf Caution Areas inside of Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

Summer 2016 is quickly becoming the deadliest on record for bear hunting hounds killed by wolves in northern Wisconsin, where a July training season means regular clashes with wolf packs traveling to summer rendezvous areas with new pups. Wisconsin is the only state in the country to allow early hound training and bear baiting, despite the loosely regulated practice leading to an increasing number of bear hound deaths each year. While reasonable efforts are made to prevent livestock depredations in Wisconsin, the legal practice of training bear hounds to chase bears (which begins every July 1st) has led to an increased number of violent encounters between federally protected gray wolves and bear hunting hounds.

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08/14/16: Bear hounds training in Wolf Caution Area near Sunken Camp Lakes, Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

Hunting black bears in Wisconsin is a big business. In 2016, Wisconsin will host the largest hunt in the nation, with a statewide quota set at 4,750 bears. Last year, 4,158 black bears were legally killed in Wisconsin, of these 4,088 were killed with the aid of bait and/or dogs. Bear hunters regularly release their dogs from bear bait sites, where they can most easily pick up the scent of an animal. Research has also proven that in areas with a large number of bear baits, wolves may become habituated to recognizing baits as a food source of their own, resulting in aggression towards bear hounds following bear trails from baits.

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08/13/16: One of thirteen active bear baits found in Wolf Caution Area near Rainbow Lake Wilderness, on same day that three more bear hounds were killed by wolves in the area.

Since Wisconsin’s bear hound training season began, and as of the time of this writing (7 weeks), 19 conflicts between bear hounds and wolves have been reported in the northern third of the state, resulting in 18 hunting hounds being killed and three injured. The impact of these deadly clashes on local wolf populations is unknown, but they are occurring while gray wolves are extremely protective and territorial as they travel with pups to rendezvous areas for the first time.

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08/13/16: DNR Gray wolf depredation map showing Wolf Caution Areas established following clashes between wolves and bear hounds in northern Wisconsin as of mid-August.

Once wolves are confirmed to be responsible for killing a bear hound, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) designates a four-mile circle around the attack site, defining the zone a Wolf Caution Area (WCA). According to the DNR’s website, hound hunters are then encouraged to, “move two or three miles from any rendezvous site, if possible, before releasing dogs (and) avoid releasing dogs at bear baits recently visited by wolves”.  Instead, many of these attacks are occurring in the same areas because no law exists to prevent bear hunters from continuing to set baits and loose their hounds in areas designated by DNR as Wolf Caution Areas.

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08/15/16: Collecting data on active bear baits in Bayfield County Wolf Caution Areas in Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

DNR regulations also do not require bear baiters to provide the locations of their baits, and are allowed to have an unlimited amount, making enforcement difficult if not impossible. In 2014, according to a DNR survey, bear hunters in Wisconsin placed over 4.5 million gallons of bait in over 82,000 bait sites, much of it discarded fryer oil and human food waste. Wisconsin’s early bear hound training season also  has meant an increase in the number of out-of-state hunters coming to Wisconsin to train bear hounds. In both Minnesota & Michigan, (where many hound trucks documented training dogs in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest were registered), bear hound training and baiting is not legal in summer months, partially because of the risk of conflict with wolves.

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07/05/16: Out of state bear hunter checking on bear bait in Wolf Caution Area near Hoist Lake, Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

Since July 2015,Wolf Patrol has been investigating bear hound training & baiting in the Washburn District of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, which has a history of conflict between wolves and bear hounds, with dogs dying in each of the last four years. Last year, DNR designated four WCA’s following the depredation of seven bear hunting hounds in the area.

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08/14/16: Bear hounds training near Horseshoe Lake Campground, Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

Since Wolf Patrol’s investigation began, we have identified over 60 active and historic bear baiting locations in Wolf Caution Areas, reported illegal baits to the DNR, and have repeatedly documented deer feeding from legal bear baits. Wolf Patrol members also are DNR-certified carnivore trackers, participating in the winter 2015 DNR wolf survey that identified an estimated nine wolves in at least two different packs in this region of the national forest.

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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.

On August 13, 2016, Wolf Patrol began monitoring a Wolf Caution Area in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, where wolves killed a bear hound on July 30th, with the intent of documenting hound training and bear baiting in areas with recent bear hound depredations. We drove to an intersection of US Forest Service roads near Sunken Camp Lakes and parked our vehicle to listen for hounds. Within 30 minutes, we encountered a hound training party of three trucks, each loaded with bear hounds.

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08/14/16: Another loaded bear hound truck training in Wolf Caution Area near Horseshoe Lake Campground, Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

We followed and parked our vehicle on the road shoulder approximately 75 yards away, and observed as the hunters gathered dogs that had been following a bear’s trail. As we continued to patrol this particular WCA, we not only encountered the same hound training party, but six other loaded hound trucks as well. Each truck was driving the many unpaved roads, letting their dogs catch the wind while the hunters watched the road for bear tracks. On at least two separate occasions we encountered bear hunters with loose hounds in the nearby Wolf Caution Area. By the end of the day, we had counted 8 different loaded hound trucks operating in the Wolf Caution Area.

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08/13/16: DNR map showing multiple Wolf Caution Areas overlapping following five separate bear hound/gray wolf encounters this Summer.

Our next patrol took us to a portion of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest near Delta, WI, where five Wolf Caution Areas overlap each other and seven bear hounds have been killed so far during this year’s bear hound training season. We drove as close as possible to the attack site where two bear hounds were killed by wolves on August 6, (and another three on August 13, the same day of our patrol) just west of the Rainbow Lake Wilderness Area. In a quadrant around the approximated attack site, we located 13 active bear baits.

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08/13/16: Posting Wolf Caution Area signs near Rainbow Lake Wilderness, Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, outside Delta, WI.

This is the same area of the national forest where Wolf Patrol was monitoring bear hunters last year, and heard a bear baiter complain on opening day of the hunt, that there were over 45 active bear baits in the area. In four days of patrolling Wolf Caution Areas, not once did we encounter bear hounds equipped with “wolf bells” or any other wolf deterrent.

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08/13/16: Wolf Caution Area map and warning posted by Wolf Patrol near Rainbow Lake Wilderness, Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

In all of the Wolf Caution Areas visited in Bayfield County, Wolf Patrol documented bear hound training activity. We also found multiple active bear bait locations, all within an estimated mile of recent bear hound depredation sites. At these active bait sites, we also documented deer regularly returning to feed on residual and spilled bait. While it is unknown whether wolves are feeding directly from bear baits in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, it is known that they will prey on the deer that are.

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08/15/16: Multiple deer tracks at bear bait in Wolf Caution Area, near Lake Lenawee, Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

Wolf Patrol believes that bear hound depredations in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest since Summer 2013 are an indication that gray wolves are becoming increasingly conditioned to hunting and feeding at or near bear baits. We also believe an increase in the number of hunters using and training free-roaming hounds on our national forest lands, not more wolves, is the greatest cause of bear hound depredations.

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08/13/16: Bear hounds being trained in Wolf Caution Area near Rainbow Lake Wilderness. Three hounds were killed by wolves in the area that day.

Wolf Patrol believes both state and federal officials are negligent in addressing the problem of bear hound/wolf conflicts. On December 5, 2015 our crew was in attendance at the Wisconsin Bear Advisory Committee meeting where Citizen Resolution #270215 – (restricting bear baiting to 14 days before the season) was presented and shot down by the entire committee. We believe such an unwillingness to acknowledge and discuss a problem with Wisconsin’s early bear hound training & baiting season is a public policy disaster that will continue to lead to more wolf-related depredations.

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08/15/16: Documenting an active bear bait in Wolf Caution Area established following July 30, bear hound depredation. Note oil residue on tree from historic baiting activity.

In the interests of preventing more deadly conflicts between bear hunting hounds and gray wolves, Wolf Patrol is asking the US Forest Service to prohibit bear baiting and bear hound training and hunting in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. We also believe it is in both the interests of reducing wolf/hound conflicts and public safety to request that  forest officials no longer allow the intentional feeding of bears on the same public lands where other citizens camp and recreate.

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08/14/16: Another bear hound training party of three trucks, crisscrossing Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest roads near Pine Lake looking for bear sign.

Wolf Patrol would also like to request that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) act immediately to restrict bear hound training and hunting activity in Wolf Caution Areas where multiple depredations have already occurred. It has been only seven weeks since training season began and 18 dogs have been killed, with another seven weeks of training and hunting season to come, we respectfully request that wildlife officials act now to prevent more bear hound and wolf injuries and deaths.

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08/13/16: Active bear bait in Wolf Caution Area near Rainbow Lake Wilderness. Note historic oil residue from bait being poured on tree.

Wolf Patrol will continue to monitor Wolf Caution Areas throughout the bear hound training season and bear hunting season which begins in early September and runs into mid-October. Our crew will continue to report on and provide DNR officials with credible information on any illegal hunting activities we document on national forest and public lands.

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07/09/16: Bear cub photographed visiting illegal bear bait near Hoist Lake, Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

To send a generic comment to the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, please visit:

http://www.fs.usda.gov/contactus/cnnf/about-forest/contactus

Wisconsin Wolves Returning Home

Battle Axe Road CNNF

Last week, Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) released the results from one of the country’s most thorough wolf and large carnivore surveys conducted annually by a state wildlife agency. An estimated 866-897 wolves live in 222 packs in the northern two-thirds of Wisconsin, according to the DNR’s latest 2015-16 winter survey. That’s 16% more wolves than were counted last year, this latest survey being only the second since hunting and trapping was again outlawed in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan in December 2014. Last year, the DNR survey reported 746-771 wolves in 208 packs.

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Wolves detected in winter 2015-16.

Gray wolves returned to Wisconsin in the late 1970’s, recolonizing traditional territory from resilient populations in Minnesota that survived the campaign of eradication in the 1900’s. Since then, wolves have reclaimed their rightful place in Wisconsin’s ecosystems as an apex predator feeding primarily on whitetail deer. Of the nearly 900 wolves in Wisconsin, an estimated 28 live outside of packs as loners, but others are naturally dispersing to suitable unoccupied former habitat not only in Wisconsin, but in Michigan and maybe one day other states where wolves presently remain extinct. All of this is successful natural occurring wolf reintroduction that Wolf Patrol supports and the reason why we exist, to protect newly returning wolves to Wisconsin and other areas where they were previously exterminated.

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Pack and lone wolf summaries, winter 2015-16.

Gray wolves in Wisconsin were wiped out in the early part of the 20th Century, as part of an extermination campaign that spread across the entire nation. Since their return, DNR biologists and volunteers have carried out annual winter track surveys to estimate the number of wolves residing in Wisconsin. Last Winter, Wolf Patrol joined the DNR’s team of volunteers conducting winter surveys for wolves in the northern forests, with our crew carrying out six separate surveys in two tracking blocks between December 2015 and April 2016.

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Wolf scat found on road during survey.

Every year, Wisconsin’s Volunteer Carnivore Tracking Program recruits hundreds of citizens, some in favor of wolf recolonization, some opposed, but all are people who care about the environment and enjoy recreating in Wisconsin’s wide expanse of public lands. Interested individuals and organizations must first attend two mandatory tracking classes that teach people about wolf history, biology, and the DNR’s role in facilitating wolf recovery following their return. Before completing the training, everyone must also pass a track identification test.

Wolf tracks found during survey.

Fresh wolf tracks found after a rainstorm.

Wolf Patrol’s involvement in the annual wolf count is because we believe those who care about wolves should be involved with the DNR and their public policy making as much as those who presently advocate for a return to wolf trapping and hunting in Wisconsin.

In 2012, the first year killing wolves became legal, 117 wolves were killed in Wisconsin by mostly trappers but also hunters. In 2013, another 257 wolves were killed, including 35 that were legally run down with hounds. In 2014, before the federal courts could stop it, another 154 wolves were killed with guns, traps and hounds.

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

Since the cessation of recreational wolf trapping and hunting in Wisconsin, Wolf Patrol has focused our attention on illegal threats and legal hunting practices that threaten gray wolves in the state. The return of the wolf is not welcomed by many in northern Wisconsin. Since wolves were placed back under federal protection in 2014, Wolf Patrol has documented numerous threats on social media from northern Wisconsin hunters who advocate for illegal wolf killing. Such threats were again posted following the June 15th, 2016 DNR meeting that announced the latest wolf count, calling for “we the people” to take the matter into their own hands, or “SSS: shoot, shovel and shut-up”.

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Comments following June 16th DNR meeting on Facebook site, “Wisconsin Wolf Hunting”

But poaching is not the only threat to wolves in Wisconsin, much of the hatred directed towards wolves is related to their killing of domestic animals. While there has never been a documented case of a wolf attacking a human in Wisconsin, wolves regularly kill dairy and beef cattle, in 2015, 50 cows and calves were reported killed by wolves with a total of $122,581.84 being paid out by the state in compensation for those livestock losses.

2015 Depredation Compensation DNR

Breakdown of domestic animals killed by wolves in 2015 and the amount of compensation paid.

Preventing livestock depredations by wolves in northern Wisconsin has proven to be effective through the increased use of non-lethal controls. This year DNR officials reported that on farms where guard animals, fencing, fladry and other non-lethal methods are employed, there’s a marked decrease in wolf caused depredations. DNR continues to host workshops to teach livestock producers in wolf country better animal management practices. Other non-lethal measures implemented to address wolf conflicts in Wisconsin 2015 included the trapping, collaring, and relocation of three wolves that had entered a captive deer farm. The wolves were released within their pack’s territory and no conflict persisted.

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Non-lethal measures employed on northern Wisconsin farms to prevent wolf depredations.

In 2015, there were two instances reported where lethal measures against wolves were implemented to address human safety. On a dairy farm, one wolf was killed after repeatedly visiting areas of the farm with humans. The other lethal response followed two reports from the Colburn Wildlife Area in Adams County, where hunters twice reported wolves approaching them without fear. One hunter fired his pistol, reportedly wounding the wolf though no body was ever recovered. DNR attempted trapping the suspected wolves, but abandoned the effort when it was determined that the wolves had moved out of the area and no longer posed a human threat.

2015 Depredation Compensation DNR

Breakdown of domestic animals killed by wolves in 2015 and the amount of compensation paid.

Other domestic animals are killed by wolves in Wisconsin each year, but the lion’s share are hunting hounds that are released to follow scents of prey animals across wolf territory. Each year, hound hunters in Wisconsin loose thousands of hunting dogs onto public and private lands to chase for bear primarily, but also coyote, bobcat, fox and raccoon (and in 2013 & 2014, wolves too). And every year, numerous hounds are killed and sometimes eaten by wolves who see the other canines as trespassers.

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Wisconsin DNR statistics on wolf-killed hunting dogs.

In 2015, 22 hunting dogs were killed by wolves in Wisconsin, eleven of those were bear hunting hounds, seven of which were killed in an area the DNR designated as a “Wolf Caution Area (WCA)” following the first depredation. DNR was unable to explain the marked increase in wolf-killed hunting hounds over the last three years, but Wolf Patrol believes the conflict is rooted in the DNR’s extremely liberal hound hunting regulations, which do not take into account the ecological impact of running packs of dogs through expanding wolf territory, especially in Summer months when pack members are especially protective of their young pups.

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Wisconsin DNR Wolf Caution Area, Bayfield County, 2015.

Like livestock producers, hound hunters are also compensated for wolf-killed dogs. Up to $2,500 is paid out to hound hunters, from the state’s sale of “endangered species” license plates. In 2015, a total of $58,224.70 was paid out to hound hunters, some of whom released hounds in the same WCA where other dogs had already been killed. While livestock producers who report conflicts with wolves are expected to address factors that contribute to depredations, no such system exists for hunters who legally hunt with hounds. The DNR does not prohibit the hunting with hounds in areas where wolves have already killed hunting dogs, this problem alone may be exacerbating the conflict between wolves and dogs.

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Bear hunters training hounds to chase bear, Polk County, July 2015.

The use of hunting hounds in WCA’s is only part of the problem. In one of the tracking blocks assigned to Wolf Patrol, one such WCA was delineated after nine hounds were killed by wolves in 2015. Last Summer, in the same area, Wolf Patrol’s investigations revealed over 19 bear baits in the WCA, with many more in the surrounding national forest lands in Bayfield County.

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Waffle cones, cherry chips and other sugary foods were filled in this particular bear baiting log.

Researchers studying the conflict between wolves and hunting hounds in Wisconsin surmise that in addition to bears, wolves are also becoming habituated to feed stations intended for bears and in turn, defend them as feeding sites of their own. Many bear hunters release their dogs near bear baits where they can easily pick up a scent trail from a visiting bear. Hound hunters track their dogs using GPS collars attached to them, as the animals travel far out of the hunters view. This is when most are killed by wolves.

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Wolf Patrol member documenting bear baiting on Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest July 2015.

Since mid-April 2016, when bear baiting is legal to begin in Wisconsin, Wolf Patrol has been visiting Wolf Caution Areas to record the number of active bear baiting stations on public lands. Our investigation is intended to gather data and information that can be provided to resource managers, with the hope that legal hunting activities such as bear baiting and hound hunting that contribute to conflicts with wolves, will be better regulated. Wolf Patrol is also asking for an outright ban on bear baiting and hound hunting within the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, where there is a history of wolf conflicts, and within all designated Wolf Caution Areas.

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A typical bear baiting area in Polk County, Wisconsin, April 2016.

Wolf Patrol’s 2016 investigation into bear baiting and hound hunting on public lands needs your support! While we work cooperatively with Wisconsin DNR, many in the bear hunting and hound hunting community do not want our crew to uncover the truth about baiting and hounding wildlife on public lands. In a signing ceremony at this year’s annual gathering of the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, Governor Scott Walker signed into law The Right to Hunt Act, which was penned specifically to address the existence of Wolf Patrol. We believe every human being has the right to access public lands with the intent of seeing for themselves how their lands and wildlife are being managed, and towards that end, Wolf Patrol will continue its efforts to protect wolves and other predators from legal and illegal threats.

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On Patrol in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, May 2016.

For More Information on Wisconsin’s Volunteer Tracking Program and upcoming training sessions, please visit the DNR’s website: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/wildlifehabitat/volunteer.html

For More Information on the conflict between bear hunters and wolves:

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0061708

To Contribute to Wolf Patrol’s campaign, please visit wolfpatrol.org or our Gofundme site:

“Great Lakes Wolf Patrol”

 

April 15: Bear Baiting Begins for 145 Days on Wisconsin Public Lands

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According to a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources survey in 2014, black bears were intentionally fed over 4 million gallons of bait at 82,340 bait sites in northern Wisconsin. Many of these bear baits are on public lands, such as the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, where wolves also become habituated to recognizing baits as a food source. Last year, wolves killed nine bear hunting hounds in one small area of the CNNF, where Wolf Patrol documented over 26 active bear baiting locations. Last fall in Grantsburg, Wisconsin bears accustomed to intentional feeding posed a human safety hazard as well. Bear baiting is illegal in 40 states, and in none of the other five states that allow it, is the baiting season as long as that in Wisconsin, where it creates conflict with wolves who are traveling with young pups to rendezvous sites. It’s time to follow the lead in United States Forest Service & National Park Service policy and tell Wisconsin:

PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE BEARS!

Last Stand of the Rosebud Wolves?

 

Wolf Tracks Off Mystic

Wolf tracks coming out of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area, Montana

On March 30, Wolf Patrol became aware of Montana and the federal government’s decision to lethally remove the Rosebud wolf pack, which roam the Beartooth Mountains, northeast of Yellowstone National Park. Wolves from the pack have been blamed for livestock depredations last year, as well as another this past January, and two cattle deaths on March 25, on a ranch just south of Roscoe, in Carbon County Montana. One of the Rosebud wolves was reportedly killed in early February, and two more wolves were captured and then killed with leg-hold snares set near the cattle carcasses on March 30, according to the USDA’s Wildlife Services.

 

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One of two replacement heifers allegedly killed by the Rosebud wolves.

This month marks the end of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s oversight of Montana’s state management of wolves, which has included the annual recreational hunting and commercial trapping season for wolves. As of 2016, there were an estimated 539 wolves in 126 packs in Montana, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. While 210 wolves were legally killed by hunters and trappers in Montana in the 2015-16 wolf season, state, federal and private ranchers are responsible for killing an additional 96 wolves, according to the 2015 Montana Wolf Annual Report.

Statewide, wolves were blamed for 41 cattle, 21 sheep and two horse deaths in 2015. In 2014, it was 37 cattle, 8 sheep and one horse, whose deaths were accredited to wolves. While these depredations are given widespread media coverage, what isn’t talked about is how these numbers represent a minuscule fraction of one percent of normal cattle mortality in Montana, where an estimated 1.5 million cows and 1.2 million calves are produced statewide each year.

Statistics on What Kills Cows

What’s really killing cows on the range.

Yet, in what is becoming the norm, more and more packs of wolves, not just the suspected offenders, are being lethally removed by state and federal authorities, following livestock depredations such as those recently blamed on the Rosebud pack.

Wolf Patrol believes the USDA’s Wildlife Services in Montana is using the predictable predation of livestock by individual wolves as justification for lethal removal of entire packs such as the Rosebud wolves. To determine whether this was the case, we dispatched a crew to southern Montana to investigate Wildlife Service’s planned removal of the Rosebud pack.

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Patrolling the Custer National Forest where wolves recently crossed.

On April 4, Wolf Patrol set up a base camp near Fishtail, Montana, approximately six miles from the most recent depredation site in Carbon County. Our objective was to investigate cattle ranching practices, search out recent wolf sign and possibly document the federal government’s removal of the remaining members of the Rosebud pack. With the suspected removal activity taking place on private lands, we were unable to access ranches where we believed Wildlife Services had set snares to capture wolves.

Instead, our crew carried out daily patrols on public roads surrounding the cattle ranch where depredations occurred, as well as patrolling the numerous drainages wolves use to travel between the Beartooth Mountains and the Yellowstone River Valley, where they cross an estimated 20-40 cattle operations. We also placed trail cameras at locations we suspected Wildlife Services might be operating.

Fersters Cows

Cows and calves grazing near recent depredation site in Carbon County.

This part of Montana is an area of predominant cattle ranching, with mostly working ranches and only a few vacation homes. With the Spring calving season in full swing, thousands of black heifers and their calves now occupy ranches in the area, grazing openly on private lands adjacent to the southern fringe of the Custer National Forest. On the ranch where the most recent depredations occurred, cows and calves graze on the banks of Rosebud Creek, which is a natural corridor for wolves and other wildlife that historically inhabited this area in spring.

Rangelands Photo

What the range looks like where cattle graze.

Despite the overabundance of cattle in the area, both whitetail and mule deer were in abundance and two separate elk herds were also in the area. Bighorn sheep and moose were also seen. In addition to the cattle themselves, other attractants such as an elk carcass and numerous roadkill deer were documented in the Rosebud Creek area. Where cattle are openly grazed away from human habitations, no nonlethal deterrents such as flagry, guard animals or range riders were in evidence.

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An elk carcass on Coleman Bench, not far from depredation site.

Ever since the reintroduction of wolves back into the Yellowstone ecosystem, many Montana cattle ranchers have demanded that wolves be prevented from rehabitating areas outside of the national park. An aggressive and long hunting season has meant that many wolves leaving Yellowstone are quickly killed, whether or not they have preyed on livestock. With the continued success of the wolf recovery program in Yellowstone, more and more wolves are leaving the park, looking to colonize territory in their former range.

Critical to the lethal removal of entire wolf packs by state and federal wildlife agents is the practice of radio-collaring individual animals, then re-releasing them to rejoin their pack. Once a livestock depredation has occurred, the so-called “Judas wolves” can then be easily tracked (usually through aerial surveillance) to the entire pack, which is then killed. According to Wildlife Services, on April 8, agents killed the last two remaining members of the Rosebud pack, which were fitted with radio collars.

GPS locations

GPS tracking of some of our patrol routes.

Wolf Patrol remained in the Stillwater & Carbon County area until reports were received that the last Rosebud wolves had been killed. No aerial activity was documented near the multiple cattle operations at the base of the Beartooth Mountains, which leaves us to suspect that the two collared wolves killed on April 8, were shot, not near cattle they supposedly posed a threat to, but we suspect in the high country on public lands, where access is still limited because of existing snow conditions. If this is proven to be the case, than it is evidence that state and federal authorities are using any act of livestock depredation as justification to lethally remove non-offending wolves with no history of conflict.

Wolf Tracks II

Wolf tracks in the Custer National Forest.

Our field investigation documented wolf sign in three separate drainages Therefore, while the Rosebud pack has been eliminated, we believe wolves will continue to be removed from Stillwater and Carbon counties. Cattle ranchers in both counties will continue to graze livestock on the open range, and it is only a matter of time before more naturally distributing wolves encounter and kill another cow or sheep.

According to Montana’s weekly wolf reports, at least 12 separate wolf packs (including the Rosebud pack) had individuals captured and fitted with 16 radio collars since January 2016. It would appear that Montana is marking the end of its federal management oversight by exercising the strategy of radio-collaring as many new and expanding wolf packs as possible, in order to more easily lethally remove them when depredations can be blamed on any wolf.

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Wolf report with radio collaring updates in blue.

Wolf Patrol does not support the lethal removal of wolves blamed for cattle deaths. We believe that such depredations are the cost of cattle ranching in wolf country, and native predators like wolves and grizzlies should never be killed, just because they’ve killed an animal that will be killed anyway. With over 2.7 million cattle occupying Montana lands, and less than 600 wolves, we believe the responsibility should fall back on the rancher to provide nonlethal deterrents when ranching in wolf country, and that wolves should be allowed to occupy suitable habitat within their historic range.

View from Mystic Lake

Looking towards cattle country from the wilderness above Carbon County.

Its ridiculous to think that wolves will not kill livestock grazed openly on range that both animals use. After witnessing the sheer number of cows and calves vulnerable to wolf predation in Stillwater and Carbon counties, Wolf Patrol believes wolves should be commended, not killed for taking less than 50 a year. Ending the killing of livestock by wolves was never believed to be possible, which is why there remains an active compensation program to reimburse ranchers who lose livestock to wolves.

Path to Mystic Lake

Following wolf and moose tracks in the wilderness area.

The larger issue of whether wolves and livestock can share their range will not be resolved by simply killing wolves that kill livestock, ranchers must put into place greater deterrents when grazing livestock, and recognize that occasional wolf depredations must simply become a vocational hazard when operating near large wilderness areas.

Wolf Patrol will continue to monitor the lethal removal of wolves blamed for livestock deaths in Montana and Idaho, and will continue to patrol areas where lethal control orders are in place, not for the purpose of interfering, but to further investigate the suspected killing of wolves with no history of livestock depredations. We do not believe it is an acceptable strategy to remove entire wolf packs when only some might be responsible for depredations, nor do we support the nonlethal removal of native predators from their historic range to be placed forever in captivity. All wildlife, including gray wolves, grizzly bears and bison deserve the right to roam free on America’s wild lands, and until they are, Wolf Patrol will remain as a watchdog of agencies and individuals who kill them.

February 5-6, 2016: Wolf Patrol Attends Coyote Contest in Mauston, Wisconsin

Wolf Patrol was on-sight for yet another coyote contest held near Mauston, Wisconsin at Jackson Clinic, a small tavern in Juneau County.  Crew members patrolled the surrounding area beginning at sunrise on Friday, February 5 in order to establish areas where hunters may be looking for coyotes.

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01/27/16: Newspaper ad for the coyote contest at Jackson Clinic

The weather that weekend made ideal hunting conditions, with above freezing temperatures which led Wolf Patrol to believe their would be much hounding activity on the day of the contest.  The roads were well-maintained, making navigation in and around the the Bass Hollow State Natural Area, fully accessible.  Hound and coyote tracks were evident throughout the territory our monitors patrolled.

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02/05/16: A snow covered road in Bass Hollow SNA.

Saturday, February 6 Wolf Patrol’s presence was patrolling roads surrounding Jackson Clinic, the establishment sponsoring the event.  By 730am, members were able to document the first two trucks equipped with hound boxes.  Minutes later a string of trucks were parked along the same road.  The rest of the day revealed heavy traffic, with at least 15 different trucks traveling throughout the beautiful bluff country in Juneau County.  At times, men with rifles could be seen standing near the roads edge, and other times caravans of trucks would be seen driving throughout the open farm roads.  By 1100am the first dead coyote could be spotted on top of a hound box.

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02/06/16: A caravan of hound trucks with a dead coyote in the back.

By 530pm the action was starting to die down on the previously busy rural roads, and after Wolf Patrol made a final lap, we headed to Jackson Clinic as the sun was starting to set.  Although the weigh-in wasn’t due until 700pm, coyotes began being weighed at 545pm.  In total, two coyotes were entered, which in turn won the all three categories of “smallest”, “largest” and “most.”

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02/06/16: A coyote being weighed-in at about 25 pounds.

While waiting to see if any late arrivals would be submitted, Wolf Patrol crew members had the opportunity to speak to several residents and contest participants.  The overall sentiment was that these hound hunters love to coyote hunt, and they love their dogs, even going so far as to say that they are the responsible hounders.  Also, the consensus was that coyotes are a detriment to the local deer population.  According to one gentlemen, “There’s nothing like the sound of my dogs running through the valley.”  Later, bear hunting entered the conversation, and another hunter said “I don’t care if I kill another bear.  I just like treeing them, and seeing what they’ll do, and letting them go.”  Overall, the tone in this small bar was generally positive despite the actual killing of these beautiful predators, and the precarious position put on their dogs while pitted against a wild animal.

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02/06/16: The two coyotes taken during the contest- 21 and 25 pounds.

In conclusion, Wolf Patrol believes that encounters like these help us glean valuable information into the hound hunting lifestyle, and communities that participate in it.  Despite disagreeing with the method by which this hunting occurs, and the general feeling of disregard for predators, our experience was a learning one; One that may help us make changes for the better for wolves and all of Wisconsin’s wildlife, by working with those that we oppose.