On the morning of September 16, 2018, Wolf Patrol was monitoring a bear hunting party as it operated from Highway 55 in portions of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in Forest County, Wisconsin. Our intentions, as told to Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) & US Forest Service law enforcement, isn’t to follow any random hound hunting party we encounter, but those specifically operating in WDNR designated Wolf Caution Areas, where bear hounds have recently been killed by wolves. Our intention is not to harass or interfere with any law-abiding hunter. It is to monitor and document bear hunting practices that are contributing to deadly conflicts with federally protected wolves on public national forest lands.
Every year, beginning with the opening days of Wisconsin’s bear hound training season in July, bear hounds and wolves begin their own deadly fighting season, as bear hunters begin dumping food to attract bears and release their hounds to chase them. The wolves are attracted to the bear baits, as has been documented repeatedly over the years, and especially this Summer and Fall in particular. Many bear hunters in northern Wisconsin have posted trail camera captured photos of wolves at their bear baits this year.
The smart bear hunters will abandon those baits, or at the very least not run their dogs off of baits visited by wolves. Once wolves have become accustomed to feeding from a bear bait, they will defend the location as a feeding area, challenging any other canine that enters the area.
On September 16, as Wolf Patrol monitors were traveling south on Highway 55, a large bear hunting party was moving west, following hounds chasing a bear along the Pine River and into the McDonald Creek Wolf Caution Area established August 31, 2018 when wolves killed a bear hound in the area. We decided to return to the depredation area on Windsor Dam Road, where we believed the loose hounds were heading. As we left Highway 55, heading west on Pine River Road, a yearling bear cub ran out of the woods from the direction of the loose hounds.
We continued to our destination, parking on the shoulder of Windsor Dam Road near the junction of Forest Road 2039, where the depredation occurred on 08/31/18. As we listened to the hounds move across Pine River and south of Wildcat Creek, another young bear came bolting out of the forest away from the loose hounds. Wolf Patrol remained in the area until the loose hounds were collected by the hound hunting party. The first portion of the above video is from this morning patrol.
Later that day on September 16, Wolf Patrol responded to a Wisconsin resident’s report of bear baits near a popular campground in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. The Chipmunk Rapids Campground is a favorite place to fish, cool off or fill up with spring water. Hound trucks were seen at the trailhead to Lost Lake, which is also the territory of a wolf family known by the same name. Fresh mud leaving a pull off 500 yards from the campground led Wolf Patrol monitors to a bear bait on Chipmunk Creek that was clearly out of compliance with WDNR bear baiting regulations.
WDNR baiting regulations clearly state that “Bait must be enclosed and covered to prevent access to the bait material by deer.” In addition, Florence County, where the bait is located, is one of 30 counties in Wisconsin under a total ban on using exposed bait for deer, due to the growing threat of Chronic Wasting Disease to Wisconsin’s deer herd.
Yet the bait at Chipmunk Creek had approximately four pounds of loose corn and grain spread around the hollowed out and capped log that was presumably filled with more bait. (Wolf Patrol monitors do not touch or tamper active bear baits or trail cameras on national forest lands, although we will document what is visible.) Approximately 20 feet from the spilled grain was another hole in the bank that had been filled with liquid bait consisting of oil, grease and other unknown materials.
Wolf Patrol will be returning to the Chipmunk Rapids area in September to conduct a more thorough search of bear baits on national forest lands. Where there is one illegal bear bait, our experience has been that there are always more being operated by the same bear hunters. The bait was reported to WDNR’s Violation Hotline on September 17, 2018.
With gray wolves successfully returning to suitable habitat, and the growing popularity of hound hunting throughout Wisconsin, deadly conflicts between bear hounds and wolves are sure to continue. Wolf Patrol is asking Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest officials to restrict and/or ban bear baiting and bear hound training on national forest lands. We are also asking for restrictions on bear hunting in known Wolf Caution Areas where bear hounds have already been killed by wolves.