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!

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