On January 17th, Wolf Patrol’s Wildlife Crimes Division received a report of suspected wolf poaching in the Washburn District of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest (CNNF). The report alleged that an unnamed individual had witnessed wolf poaching, allegedly by bear hunters in retaliation for eight hunting hounds that had been killed by wolves, since the bear hound training season began July 1st.
With the increase in the number of bear hunting hounds being killed by wolves in northern Wisconsin in recent years, Wolf Patrol has feared that these depredations would lead to retaliation killings, despite the fact that bear hound hunters are compensated from Wisconsin’s Endangered Species Fund, up to $2,500.00 for each hound killed by a federally protected gray wolf.
In July 2015, Wolf Patrol began its investigation of bear hound training and baiting in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, particularly in Bayfield County, where numerous hunting dogs had recently been killed by wolves. What we found was a high concentration of bear baits (19) in the Department Of Natural Resources’ (WDNR) “Wolf Caution Areas” which are designated once a depredation has occurred. Despite the advance warnings of wolves having been habituated to bear baiting sites, bear hunters continue to loose their hounds in the caution areas, and the result last Summer and Fall, was eight bear hunting hounds killed.
On January 18, as part of the WDNR’s Carnivore Tracking Program, Wolf Patrol volunteer trackers conducted a carnivore tracking survey in the Washburn District of the CNNF. The annual gray wolf survey helps, “to determine the number, distribution, breeding status, and territories of wolves in Wisconsin”. The volunteer survey is also a way to monitor the abundance and distribution of other medium-sized and large carnivores, as well as an attempt to determine the presence of rare carnivores such ass Canada Lynx and cougar.
Wolf Patrol monitors visited the Washburn district of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in July, twice in September and once in October. On all three occasions, wolf tracks and sign were easily found in the areas where bear baits were also concentrated. At the conclusion of the track survey on January 18th & 19th, no wolf sign had been detected in any of the areas where it had been documented last Summer and Fall.
Our concern is that illegal killing of wolves is taking place in areas with a high concentration of hound hunting for bear, coyote and bobcat. Online evidence continually reveals a high degree of contempt for federally protected gray wolves by the hound hunting community and it was our suspicion, based on the numerous documented threats against wolves by hound hunters in northern Wisconsin, that these very same people are taking vigilante-type measures to illegal kill wolves despite their federal protections.
Based on this suspicion, Wolf Patrol’s Wildlife Crimes Unit dispatched to Forest County, Wisconsin on January 20th, where a coyote hunting contest for hound hunters was being organized in Argonne, Wisconsin. Wolf Patrol monitors quickly learned that another coyote hunting contest had occurred the week previous to our arrival, and in that hunt, the Laona Hound Hunters claimed the prize money.
Wolf Patrol spent the days leading up to the Argonne coyote hunt slowly driving CNNF roads in Forest County, looking for wolf sign in areas where the competition hunt would later occur. Our concern being that during competitive coyote hunts, the illegal shooting of wolves misidentified as coyotes is probable, especially amongst sportsmen who already despise them. This concern was partially founded on the fact that contest organizers were offering a prize for the “largest” coyote, as well as for the most killed.
Our field patrols of the CNNF in Forest County found multiple canine tracks intersecting deer trails in the recently fallen snow, and along the Peshtigo River, a high amount of wolf sign, including evidence of not just one or two wolves, but what we suspect were numerous animals. We placed two trail cameras in the areas with wolf sign on publicly accessible roads to monitor for wolf and human activity leading up to the Argonne coyote hunt.
WP monitors also visited local establishments where the subject of wolves was openly discussed. A high level of animosity towards wolves was quickly discovered, and at the restaurant where the Argonne Coyote Hunt was being organized, I spoke with a hound hunter who openly stated that any wolf seen in the area, was a wolf killed. No questions asked. According to this hound hunter, area residents feared wolves were coming closer and closer to residential areas, so illegal taking was being rationalized as a means to prevent depredations by wolves.
On January 21st, Wolf Patrol investigators contacted lawyers and biologists with the Center for Biological Diversity to inquire as to the legal requirements for competition events on national forest lands. Numerous attempts have been made to prevent contest killings of wildlife on public lands by citing federal code 36 C.F.R. § 251.51 which states that any commercial activities, such as those like the coyote hunt that charge an entry fee, are required to apply for a Special Use Permit. We next visited the Laona, Wisconsin U.S. Forest Service office where inquiries were made about a Special Use Permit for the hunt. A regional representative informed Wolf Patrol that a determination had been made that a Special Use Permit was not necessary.
On January 21st, during local patrols of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in the Laona & Argonne areas of Forest County, numerous non-lethal marten hair traps set by University of Wisconsin researchers were located in the forests. Martens are one of the most endangered carnivores in Wisconsin. Wolf Patrol supports ongoing research projects by the University of Wisconsin to determine population and other biological information relating to the highly endangered marten.
On January 22nd, Wolf Patrol monitors returned to the Peshtigo River area where wolf sign had been earlier detected. Our monitors operate as experienced trackers who not only investigate wolf activity, but also human activity in wolf habitat. The entire purpose of our patrol this particular week, was to investigate human activities such as coyote hound hunting in areas where wolves are known to occur. The previously mentioned report of alleged wolf poaching by hound hunters led us to other areas where we knew hound hunters would be active in wolf territory.
At approximately 1000am on January 22nd, Wolf Patrol monitors identified human tracks leading off U.S. Forest Service roads along the Peshtigo River. The human tracks followed game trails, and following just twenty feet off the road, the tracks lead to the discovery of three small meat baits, measuring approximately two inches in diameter, each wrapped around a treble (three-pronged) fishing hook. The baits were dangling from monofiliment fishing line that could easily be broken by any carnivore swallowing the bait.
Approximately one hundred yards further down the same forest road, two more baited hooks were discovered. Wolf Patrol monitors documented the baits, obtained GPS coordinates, and then drove to nearby Laona, where WDNR was notified. We then returned to the bait site to await the arrival of the WDNR warden. While waiting for the warden, an additional bait was located in the same area, thus bringing the total number of discovered baited fish hooks to six.
At Approximately 1430hrs, a DNR conservation officer arrived on the scene and begun investigating the bait site. A determination was quickly made, that these were indeed illegal baits set for the intention of causing suffering and a slow death to any animal that ingested the hidden fish hooks.
Wolf Patrol would like to thank the investigating Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer who responded promptly and professionally to this serious violation of both state and federal wildlife laws. Wolf Patrol exists to assist all wildlife agencies in their enforcement of laws meant to protect and conserve the natural resources of our great country, and our reward program was created to aid in the capture and prosecution of wildlife criminals.
On January 23rd, Wolf Patrol monitors patrolled Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest lands within Forest County, where numerous hound hunters were seen prowling public lands, looking for coyote sign. Our intention was not to interfere, but simply to use our public presence to deter any illegal taking of gray wolves. Knowledge that our crew are in the field with handheld, vehicle-mounted, trail-cameras and drones serves as an alert to would be wildlife law violators that the illegal taking of wildlife will be witnessed, documented and prosecuted.
While the U.S. Forest Service did not require a Special Use Permit for the Argonne Coyote Hunt, because the event involved a raffle, the event fell under state gaming regulations that required an additional permit. For this reason, the public weigh-in of dead coyotes and the awarding of prize money was cancelled.
On January 23rd, Wolf Patrol announced a $5,000.00 cash reward for information that will lead to the prosecution and conviction of anyone responsible for the setting of illegal baits and traps for wolves in Wisconsin.
While we were relieved that six more wolves and/or coyotes or other predators did not ingest the illegal baits we uncovered, it’s ridiculous to believe that we were able to locate all the baits set by this particular poacher. More ominously, this discovery leads Wolf Patrol to conclude that wolf poaching is indeed taking place in the north woods of Wisconsin, and according to multiple reports, hound hunters are the prime suspects.
Wolf Patrol will continue to investigate suspected poaching activities on Wisconsin’s public lands, offer assistance to WDNR efforts to combat illegal hunting, and monitor hound hunting for coyotes and predator killing competitions in documented wolf territory as part of an effort to dissuade wolf poaching. We also will continue to conduct carnivore tracking surveys in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, monitor wolf activity in the Moquah Barrens and support efforts by WDNR to ascertain the most accurate assessment of gray wolf populations in Wisconsin as is scientifically possible.
Wolf Patrol will continue its reward program, and offers a no-questions asked cash reward to any individual who provides information that leads to the prosecution and conviction of wildlife criminals. If you or someone you know has evidence of a crime committed against Wisconsin’s wildlife, CALL or TEXT 1-800-TIP-WDNR (1-800-847-9367. To email a report of a violation not in progress: LE.firstname.lastname@example.org