Wisconsin’s Bear Hunt with Hounds Begins Tomorrow

Thousands of dogs will be released across northern Wisconsin on September 6, signaling the beginning of the nation’s largest bear hunting season. More black bears are killed in Wisconsin than anywhere else in the United States, including Alaska. Last year, 4,682 bears were reported killed, 96% of those animals were killed with the aid of bait and/or dogs. This year’s quota is 5,000 bears, slightly more than in 2016.


Minnesota bear hunter running dogs in 2016 Wolf Caution Area.

No license is required to bait or train dogs to chase bears in Wisconsin, and both of those seasons have been open since mid-April and July, meaning that for the last two months, black bears in Wisconsin could be legally chased, but not killed. As Wolf Patrol has reported before, the summer training season is traditionally when conflicts occur between bear hounds being trained, and federally protected gray wolves. So far this year, 11 bear hounds have been killed by wolves and five injured.


Minnesota bear hunter demanding film from Wolf Patrol.

While 12,850 permits have been issued to actually kill a bear, there is no way to quantify the actual number of people actively baiting and running dogs for licensed permit holders. In August 2015, Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) was required by state law to remove the license requirement to bait or train bear hounds. This was done to appease the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association who argued that no other hunting group that used dogs was required to have a license to train their dogs, so why should bear hunters?

Hound Truck with 3 Barrells of Bait

Minnesota bear hunter…moving into the national forest.

Wolf Patrol has been investigating bear hunting practices in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest (CNNF) for three years running, documenting bear baiting and hound training activities in areas where wolves have historically killed trespassing bear hounds. Because of the lax regulations governing bear baiting and hound training in Wisconsin, many bear hunters come from out of state to train and bait for bear when their home state prohibits both activities.

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Blue dot: Minnesota bear hunter campsite, red dots: bear hounds killed by wolves in 2016.

Beginning July 1st, 2017, Wolf Patrol has been documenting bear hunting practices in the Washburn District of the CNNF, and reporting bear baits found out of compliance to both WDNR and the US Forest Service. In a meeting with WDNR conservation officers, US Forest Service law enforcement, and the Bayfield County Sheriff’s Department, Wolf Patrol was affirmed in our rights to continue to monitor bear hunting activities in Wisconsin in a legal manner. During the 2017 bear hunt, Wolf Patrol will be monitoring hunting activities in past and present Wolf Caution Areas, which are established by WDNR once a wolf has killed a bear hound.


Wolf Patrol removing bear hound chains from national forest campsite.

One of the activities Wolf Patrol will be monitoring, is the use of the national forest as a temporary kennel for hound hunters traveling from nearby Minnesota. Since 2015, Wolf Patrol has documented out of state bear hunters occupying undeveloped campsites for weeks and even months longer than the allowed 21 day limit.


Chains used to anchor bear hounds in 2016 Wolf Caution Area.

In early June, Wolf Patrol visited one such site, picked up trash, and removed over a dozen dog chains that had been left by bear hunters the previous year. We also found unused illegal drags at the campsite, that were used in past years to drag the soft surface of forest roads so hunters could see bear tracks more clearly. In July, we again found evidence of illegal drags still in use in the Washburn District of the CNNF, and reported the incidents to US Forest Service officials.

Old Drag @ Basecamp

Abandoned illegal drag at bear hunter campsite.

On September 3rd, Wolf Patrol again discovered that non-resident bear hunters are using the national forest site as a temporary kennel, only now in addition to a trailered camper, and 55-gallon drums filled with bear bait, hunters have re-installed dog chains and added kennels for their bear hounds. Less than a mile from the temporary kennel is the site where two bear hounds were killed last July and August during the 2016 bear hound training season.


While there is no way to know for certain how many hound hunters will be in the northern Wisconsin woods, or how many bear baits are in operation, what we do know is that according to WDNR bear hunter surveys, over 4.6 million gallons of bait was dumped in bear baits in 2014. This July, the Journal of Wildlife Management also published a study on bear baiting done in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest which concluded that in the CNNF, 40% of a black bear’s diet consists on unhealthy food waste used as bear bait.

Moquah Wolf

Wisconsin wolf occupying 2016 Wolf Caution Area.

Wolf Patrol is asking Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest Officials to ban the practices of bear baiting and bear hound training in our national forests. National forests belong to everyone, and should not be treated like a private hunting reserve by bear hunters. Bear baiting and hound training results in the conditioning of bears and other animals to accept human handouts. Running dogs in summer wolf territory is also the greatest cause of conflict between bear hunters and wolves, and also constitutes as the illegal take of an endangered species, “take” being legally defined to include harassment.


Wisconsin wolf on same road as Minnesota bear hunter campsite.

If you agree that its time to reign in bear hunting practices in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, please email forest officials now: cnnfadmin@fs.fed.us