Back in early June 2018, Wolf Patrol began its annual investigation of bear baiting and hound training activities in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, focusing on areas of Forest County where multiple wolf packs occur. This is the fourth year Wolf Patrol has been monitoring and documenting bear hunting practices like baiting and hound training in known wolf areas. Our evidence shows bear baiting and bear hound training, especially in summer months, contributes heavily to what has become the annual killing and injuring of hunting dogs by wolves in northern Wisconsin.
Beginning on June 7, Wolf Patrol monitors began surveying national forest roads for active and inactive bear bait locations. Our focus area was determined by over-winter activity of at least three separate wolf groups our members have tracked since 2016. The focus of this year’s investigation is once again, the connection between bear hunting activities and wolf depredations on hunting dogs, which always increases with the beginning of bear hound training season in July.In addition to Wolf Patrol documenting the presence of wolves in this portion of Forest County, in early June, biologists from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) were also live-trapping wolves in the immediate area for radio-collaring and monitoring.
On June 8th, Wolf Patrol investigators set up trail cameras to monitor bear and wolf activity at four historic bait sites on national forest lands in our research area. The first was a bait site off of Windsor Dam Road, the second was a site south of Fire Tower Road off Highway 55, the third at another Highway 55 bait site, and the fourth off of Fire Tower Road itself.
When Wolf Patrol returned to the area on June 28, the trail camera monitoring one of the active baits off Highway 55 was missing. All other trail cameras were operational and recording wildlife activity at the inactive bait sites. On June 29, we repositioned two of our trail cameras at the Fire Tower Road bait site and placed a single bagel in the bait log. By placing the cameras and bait at this location, Wolf Patrol was claiming this site as our own, as is permitted by WDNR regulations. To avoid violating rules on recreational feeding of bears, we secured a commitment from a sympathetic bear hunter to use our baits during the fall hunting season.
On June 30, the Fire Tower Road bait site was visited by an unknown bear baiter who took over the bait site and removed the trail camera monitoring Wolf Patrol’s bait site. The next day on July 1, opening day of Wisconsin’s bear hound training season, another trail camera monitoring the road at the same bait site was also stolen.
All three camera thefts were reported to Forest County Sheriff’s Department (FCSD) on July 1st and U.S. Forest law enforcement and WDNR conservation officers were also notified. ON July 2, Wolf Patrol provided FCSD with additional trail camera images of the bear baiter continuing to use the Fire Tower Road bait site. On July 5, I was contacted by WDNR conservation officers who informed me that they identified the bear hunter using the site and had located our stolen cameras.
Wolf Patrol includes licensed hunters who have just as much right to occupy bear baits and use trail cameras to monitor wildlife activity as other licensed bear hunters. Whether we kill animals or not, our constitutional rights as citizens and hunters are the same as the bear hunters we monitor.
Illegal activity associated with bear baiting is not uncommon. Over the last four years, Wolf Patrol has reported multiple violations of bear baiting regulations on national forest lands in northern Wisconsin. Also in early July, we spoke with other bear baiters in the area who reported that individual(s) were tampering with their baits by pouring gasoline over their contents.
The simplest solution to avoiding conflicts at bear baiting sites on public lands is for WDNR to require the registration of the sites with conservation officers, and placing a limit on the number of baits a hunter can use. Requiring bear bait registration would not only make enforcing baiting regulations much easier, it would also create a revenue stream for WDNR that could be used to help enforce Wisconsin’s huge black bear hunt.
If you believe that bear baiting practice on our national forest lands need to change, please get involved and send an email to Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest officials asking for bear baiting and hound training to be re-evaluated because of the many conflicts it causes, with bears, wolves and other forest users.