Wolf Patrol Summary of Bear Baiting & Hound Training Activities in July 2015
In July, Wolf Patrol set out to gather information about Wisconsin’s bear hound training & baiting activities on public lands. Our focus was to learn more about the conflict that exists as a result of bear hunting hounds being trained in wolf habitat in early July when the predators’ are leaving their dens with new pups to areas known as “rendezvous sites” where their parents can teach them to hunt and explore their habitat. Last year in Wisconsin alone, over 25 hunting hounds were killed by wolves as they hunted or were trained on public lands.
Although bear hunting in Wisconsin does not begin until September 9th, it is legal in Wisconsin to begin baiting for bear in mid-April, and training bear hounds on July 1st, thus bear hunters through intentional feeding, are conditioning bears to behave in ways that are in the bear hunter’s own self interest. This is not only the opinion of Wolf Patrol, but the scientific findings published recently by researchers who investigated Wisconsin’s liberal bear hunting policies, comparing them to Michigan’s, where a much more regulated baiting season exists. What we found in our two weeks of on-the-ground investigations reinforces the findings of researcher Joseph Bump and others in, “Bear-Baiting May Exacerbate Wolf-Hunting Dog Conflict” published in 2013.
Early Summer is not only a time when bears and wolves are active, but other wildlife as well. The presence of “free-feeding” bait sites throughout bear habitat, means not only bears are influenced by these artificial feed sites, but other animals as well. Most notable in our findings was the presence of deer at bear bait locations. Deer and other animals are attracted by the calorie-rich foods placed in the field by bear hunters, and anywhere there are deer congregating, you can expect predators and other wildlife to gather as well. What we are witnessing is a “trophic cascade” whereby, bear hunters intentionally set out baits for bear, the bait becomes exposed, and other wildlife feeds from it, also contributing to predator attention to bear baiting sites.
One particular bait supplier, “Northwoods Bear Products” uses the by-line: “Turn Nocturnal Bears into Daytime Bears” taking pride in the fact that their artificial baits and lures cause bears to alter their natural behavior. Bear baiting is a big business in northern Wisconsin, where guides are able to “guarantee” that their clients will have the chance to shoot a bear, only because the animal has become conditioned to feed at an artificial feed site.
Another recent finding from researchers is that the artificial calorie-rich diet often provided in bear baits (chocolate, breads, candy, cookies, and other randomly-sourced sweets) is contributing to larger litter sizes amongst black bears fed from bait stations. Where black bear normally produce one to two cubs a year, researchers are seeing more sows with three cubs. Thus, it is hypothesized that bear hunters are causing an artificial increase in the population of bears, at a time of year when the easiest food source for sows with cubs to find is from bear baits.
While this domino effect is occurring, thereby altering the natural behavior of multiple species, there also begins a greater likelihood that disease transmission can occur when multiple species are feeding in one area in an artificial fashion. Currently, 38 counties in Wisconsin are under a deer baiting ban, to limit the likelihood of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) transmission between deer in the wild, and those that have escaped from hunting breeders recently. Included in that ban are Polk, Washburn, Barron and Burnett Counties, where Wolf Patrol documented deer at bear bait sites.
Wisconsin’s DNR does not prohibit the use of chocolate in bear baits either, which is a known toxin to bears and canids. While DNR states it is a threat, Wolf Patrol documented the prevalence of chocolate in numerous bear bait stations. There is also no limit on the number of bear baits a licensed bear hunter can maintain.
Another component of bear hunting in Wisconsin is the use of hounds. While baiting is used to condition bears to visit bait stations, hounds are used to trail and tree black bear, often picking up the scent of a bear from a bear bait, but hound hunters also drive dirt roads looking for where a bear might have recently crossed roads. Hunting from the road is illegal, yet this practice is extremely common and the most effective way to hunt bear with hounds. Up to six bear hounds can be set loose on the trail of a bear beginning July 1st. Hound hunters will then use GPS tracking collars to follow the progress of their hounds, which are free-roaming. This is when the majority of wolf attacks on hunting hounds occurs. Since bear hound training season began on July 1st, five hounds have been killed by wolves in the areas where Wolf Patrol conducted its investigation.
“…If the duration of baiting is important in allowing wolves to associate with and potentially defend (bear) bait sites, we predict the likelihood of wolf depredation on dogs would be greatest at the first opportunity for an encounter between the two species, which is at the time when (hound) training with bait begins. We expect this because prior to training with bait, wolves can freely visit bait sites without encountering dogs. It is reasonable to expect that the longer free association with bait sites is possible, then a greater potential exists for wolves to be present in the vicinity of bait sites once training begins.”(excerpted from: “Bear-Baiting May Exacerbate Wolf-Hunting Dog Conflict”)
Hound hunting in Wisconsin is a popular multi-generational pastime, with bears being only one species that is pursued with dogs. Wisconsin is the only state in the country that legally allows the hound hunting of wolves (in 2013 & 2014) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has established seasons when hound hunters pursue raccoon, fox, bobcat and coyote for which there is no established season, but open year-round. The northern third of Wisconsin observes limits on hound hunting between May 1-June 30, yet during even that sensitive time for young wildlife, it is still legal to train hounds on rabbits and raccoons with the appropriate license.
As hound hunting continues in the same areas where wolves frequent, greater depredations shall occur. Earlier this year, nine hunting hounds were injured or killed by wolves with the most recent being a bear hound in Bayfield County, on July 19th, where a concentrated number of bear baits were documented by Wolf Patrol.
As wolves continue their return to Wisconsin, the apex predator has created a unique challenge to hound hunters in a state where hunters had became familiar with a landscape devoid of wolves. Without apex predators like wolves, many hound hunters believed hunting with dogs was an acceptable means to manage species such as coyotes and bears. Wisconsin’s liberal hound hunting regulations (or lack of regulation at all) has led to a marked increase in the killing of hunting hounds by wolves.
Recent research has shown that baiting restrictions such as in Michigan, where bear baiting is not allowed until later in the Summer, results in fewer wolves defending bait sites as their own or killing hounds as trespassers in such areas.
“…Because wolves tend to be strongly territorial, routinely kill canids [trespassing wolves, coyotes (Canis latrans) and dogs] in defense of their territories, and are readily attracted to bait sites, it is thought that the extended, pre-training baiting period in Wisconsin provides wolves increased opportunity to discover and defend bait sites. Indeed, this mechanism has been previously proposed based on observations of wolves using bait sites for food as documented by cameras, tracks, and the stomach contents of a captured wolf.”
(excerpted from: “Bear-Baiting May Exacerbate Wolf-Hunting Dog Conflict”)
Once Wolf Patrol’s investigation began, it didn’t take long to recognize that everywhere fresh wolf tracks were found, we could use GPS locations to determine that we were within a quarter mile of known bear bait sites. All the bear hound training we documented in Polk and Bayfield Counties was also being done immediately adjacent to bear bait sites. Trail cameras caught images of free-roaming hounds visiting bear bait sites as well.
Our conclusion is that with a mid-April start to bear baiting and an early July start of bear hound training, the unregulated management of bears and other wildlife by hound hunters will continue, alongside a continuation of the deadly conflicts between wolves and their hunting hounds.
While Wolf Patrol abides by all county, state and federal laws, and despite DNR being aware of our monitoring activities, the Polk County Sheriff’s Department chose to take action against our monitors in the field, in what we believe was an attempt to prevent these findings about bear baiting and hound hunting being made public. Deputies claimed we were in violation of Wisconsin’s Hunter Harassment law, but to this day, no charges have been filed.
In addition, all evidence gathered by Wolf Patrol in Wisconsin, that we believe documents illegal bear baiting or hound training/hunting, is turned over to DNR’s law enforcement division and will become available following criminal investigations.
Citizens of Wisconsin opposed to the state’s liberal bear hunting policies have introduced a resolution to the Conservation Congress, a public body that recommends changes to DNR policies that we believe is a reasonable compromise and we respectfully request that these minor changes be adopted into law to prevent further conflicts between wolves and bear hunting hounds.
CONSERVATION CONGRESS CITIZEN RESOLUTION April 7, 2015
Problems associated with this practice:
WI allows bear baiting 141 days of the year (127 days more than Minnesota)
Bear baiting alters normal bear behavior as human scent becomes associated with food. Bait stations become rendezvous sites for wolves thereby also becoming the area where bear hunters release hounds for bear training. In 2013, 16 of the 23 hounds killed by wolves were @ bait sites from July through August as wolves protect pups. WI is the only state that reimburses bear hounders for dogs killed by wolves.
WI is out of step with other states. Bear baiting is illegal in 40 states. Three states do not allow baiting before bear season. Idaho & Wyoming allow baiting 7 days before. Michigan & Maine 11-31 days before. Minnesota 14 days prior.
Wisconsin’s bear baiting policies present ethical & fair chase issues. The practice sets the stage for bloody encounters between wolves & dogs. Monetary incentives encourage hounders to engage in risky behavior with their bear dogs.
Wisconsin needs to reduce the number of days bear baiting is allowed to reduce the multifaceted issues 4 ½ months of bear baiting cause.
Rural & urban residents are experiencing an increase in bear encounters as bear’s associate humans with food. The combination of moving bear dog training up to July 1st & 141 days of baiting has caused increases in bear hound deaths as wolves protect their pups.
Be it resolved that the Conservation Congress @ its annual meeting held in Jackson County on April 7, 2015 recommend that the Conservation Congress work with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to correct this situation by introducing a rule change to reduce bear baiting to 14 days prior to the bear hunt (as in Minnesota).”
WHAT WOLF PATROL IS ASKING THE U.S. FOREST SERVICE & WISCONSIN’S DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES FOR…
-No Bear Baiting Allowed on National Forest Lands
-No Hound Hunting Allowed on National Forest Lands
-An End to the mid-April Bear Baiting Season
-An End to Hound Hunting & Training in Known Wolf Rendezvous Areas
-No Bear Baiting Within Four Miles of Known Wolf Rendezvous Areas
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Call, Write, Email the US Forest Service, requesting that bear baiting be made illegal on our national forest lands. Chequamegon National Forest: firstname.lastname@example.org
Support Wolf Patrol’s upcoming September 9th monitoring of Wisconsin’s hound hunt for bears.
Share this report on social media and ask your friends to demand that the American public not be allowed to feed the bears in Wisconsin’s national forests, a practice that is illegal on national forest lands in the majority of the United States! A fed bear is a dead bear!