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.
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.
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.
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: