On September 22 & 23, 2018, in two separate bear hunting incidents in northern Wisconsin, wolves fought and killed two hunting dogs in Price and Lincoln Counties. The Lincoln County incident occurred two miles from where another hound was killed on county forest lands ten days before, presumably by the same wolves, attracted to the area by bear baits they are feeding from this Summer in increasing numbers.
These latest bear hunting causalities bring the total number of bear hound/wolf fights in Wisconsin (since bear hound training season began on July 1) to 18, with this year’s hound hunt for bear running until October 9th. The first fight between wolves and bear hounds this year took place during the first week of bear hound training season on July 5, 2018. Since then bear hound/wolf fights have been occurring about once a week, usually on weekends when more bear hunters are afield.
Despite hunting bears with hounds only being legal since the 1960’s, Wisconsin’s annual bear hunt is enshrined in tradition as well as being an economic boost to many rural communities. So its not surprising to learn the lengths the state will go to deny that recreational and commercial bear hunters are causing any problems. Instead, this is the time of year when hunting cabins are filled, local newspapers feature pictures of dead bears, and four-wheel drive trucks with hound boxes can be seen and heard on every rural Wisconsin road.
Wisconsin bear hunters enjoy a cozy relationship with the state legislature, which is why state laws have favored hound hunters in recent years. In April 2016, Governor Scott Walker attended the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association’s annual conference to sign into law the Right to Hunt Act, which specifically targeted Wolf Patrol for exposing Wisconsin’s unethical hunting practices. The law prohibits anyone from photographing or videotaping Wisconsin hunters on public lands, but county prosecutors are reluctant to charge Wolf Patrol, because it is blatantly unconstitutional and could lead to costly legal battles, resulting in the law being overturned.
Another notable legislative victory for the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, was the 2015 legislative action that removed the “B” license requirement to bait for bear or run hounds in Wisconsin. Since then, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) has been unable to accurately assess how many hound hunters operate in Wisconsin during bear season, (which runs from July through October) or how many bear baits there are on public lands, since there is no requirement to register bear baits and there is no limit on the number a hunter can use.
In the national hound hunting community, everyone knows of the loose bear hunting regulations in Wisconsin, which is why many hound hunters come from Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia and other states to run dogs, either to simply train, or during the kill season. Coupled with an increase in the number complaints related to resident bear hunters competing for public land use, Wisconsin’s national forest lands are seeing an increase in unregulated bear baiting and hound hunting in wolf territory by both residents and non-residents alike.
While many hound hunters come from out of state to hunt bear in Wisconsin, resident hunters, including nearby Michigan residents regularly bait for bear and run dogs in northern Wisconsin public lands. Wolf Patrol chose to monitor bear hunting practices in Forest County, Wisconsin during the 2018 training/hunting season because we believed it would be an area where bear hunting hounds and wolves were likely to clash.
The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest encompasses over 1.5 million acres of forest lands in northern Wisconsin, with the portions that border Michigan boasting healthy wolf populations, having recolonized the region since the wolf’s extirpation from Wisconsin in the mid-20th Century. Wolves were never reintroduced, as was the case in the Yellowstone ecosystem, instead they distributed themselves from resilient survivors in Minnesota and Michigan.
Since their return, Wisconsin wolves have ran head-long into the hound hunting culture that grew up during their absence. In northern Wisconsin there’s hardly a month that passes when there’s not hound hunters afield on public lands chasing and killing rabbits, raccoons, fox, coyote and bear. Only now, Wisconsin’s hound hunters refuse to share the landscape with native apex predators known to prey on their trespassing hounds. Instead in what has become a regular occurrence, when wolves kill a hunting hound in Wisconsin, a string of threats erupts amongst hounders to kill, poison and “take matters into their own hands”.
The first wolf depredation on hunting dogs in 2018 took place on January 7, in Forest County when wolves injured three coyote hunting hounds. (Later that month, coyote hunters blockaded Wolf Patrol’s vehicle and assaulted crew members as they were investigating a hound hunt in the area.) In recent years, portions of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National in Forest County have been on Wolf Patrol’s radar, not only for local residents enjoyment of coyote killing contests, but because federally protected wolves have been killed and dumped not far from the area.
Over the winter of 2017-18, as well as throughout this Summer, Wolf Patrol has been monitoring wolf activity on national forest lands in Forest County, in our effort to help prevent illegal wolf killings. Beginning in early June 2018, Wolf Patrol began monitoring historic bear baits in Forest County, and quickly discovered that multiple wolf packs were also occupying an area with historic bear baits.
Our investigation into conflicts between hound hunters and federally protected gray wolves on Wisconsin national forest lands was not welcomed by bear hunters. After reporting bear baits out of compliance in late June, on July 1st, opening day of bear hound training season, two Wolf Patrol trail cameras monitoring a bear bait on national forest lands were stolen. Wolf Patrol provided evidence of the theft as well as photos of the suspects to law enforcement, who were successful in identifying and locating the bear hunters who stole the cameras. The cameras were later returned to us by the Forest County Sheriff’s Department.
Because of the density of bear baits in the region, Wolf Patrol monitors wasn’t surprised when WDNR reported a bear hound had been injured by wolves in Forest County on August 30, 2018, but we were surprised when another hound depredation occurred the very next day, leaving two dogs dead, less than a mile from where Wolf Patrol trail cameras (that were not stolen) captured images of wolves visiting a bear bait in late June.
On September 18, another bear hound was injured by wolves, as it chased bears through the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in Forest County. This attack occurred just a few miles from where Wolf Patrol was monitoring bear hunting activity at the 09/31/18 depredation site a few days earlier, (and also only a short distance from where Wolf Patrol monitors found meat-baited fishhooks left out for predators during a local coyote killing contest in 2016).
From WDNR’s Dog Depredation page:
When wolves attack dogs in hunting or training situations on public land, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will create wolf caution areas to warn hunters that a specific pack has attacked a dog or group of dogs. Bear hunters are urged to exercise greater caution if they plan to train hounds or hunt bear with hounds near any caution area, especially if near an actual kill site…In addition, avoid releasing dogs at baits recently visited by wolves. When looking for bear sign near bait, make sure to also look for wolf tracks. Be familiar with your own dog’s tracks, so that you can distinguish it from any wolf tracks. If a specific bait site is receiving a lot of wolf use, discontinue using it until wolves have left and concentrate on an alternative bait site.
Contrary to what is advised by WDNR, since 2015, Wolf Patrol has repeatedly documented continued baiting and running of hounds in recently designated Wolf Caution Areas. As recently as September 14th, Wolf Patrol monitors identified eleven active bear baits in the 08/31/18 Wolf Caution Area, with one bait less than a quarter-mile from where two bear hounds were killed by wolves.
What’s also interesting is that following the most recent injury of a bear hound by wolves in Forest County on 09/18/18, WDNR did not alert the public for six days (09/24/18), citing “…key staff being unavailable to post the new caution area map last week.” Although the WDNR is powerless to prohibit continuing bear baiting and hound use in Wolf Caution Areas, the system is still intended to aid in the prevention of more violent conflicts between bear hounds and wolves. Something it continually fails to do.
Instead, what the delay in reporting yet another bloody fight between bear hunting dogs and federally protected wildlife this year reveals, is that WDNR and bear hunters know that more fights are going to happen. They also know bear hunters aren’t going to stop running dogs and baiting in Wolf Caution Areas, so why bother alerting the public to another fight, when all it does is serve as an example of how bear hunters are to blame for the now 18 deadly fights between wolves and bear hounds since July 1st?
With two more weeks of bear hunting in Wisconsin ahead of us, and with the last week of the hunt dedicated only to hound hunters, more hound and wolf fights are not a question, but an expectation. Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources and the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association’s only recommended solution is to regain state authority to recreationally kill wolves, as was legal between 2012-14 when over 500 were taken with traps, guns and hounds. Wolf Patrol has a less violent alternative: restrict and prohibit bear baiting, hound training and hunting in the entirety of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, and especially in WDNR designated Wolf Caution Areas.
WDNR and the Wisconsin hound hunting community cannot be expected to do anything to prevent future deadly bear hound/wolf conflicts. That job belongs to you. If you’re a Wisconsin resident, visit the League of Conservation Voters http://conservationvoters.org to find local candidates to support in upcoming elections, and everyone else who also enjoys our national forests should send an email to Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest officials asking them to take action to limit bear hunting activities on our national forest lands:
The following is a list of the dog fights with wolves so far this season in Wisconsin:
- On 01/05/18, USDA Wildlife Services confirmed that wolves injured three hunting dogs in Forest County.
- On 03/05/18, USDA Wildlife Services confirmed that wolves depredated a Plott hound in Juneau County.
- On 07/05/18, USDA Wildlife Services confirmed that wolves attacked and injured a walker hound in Burnett County.
- On 07/07/18, USDA Wildlife Services confirmed that wolves depredated a redtick hound in Oneida County.
- On 07/07/18, USDA Wildlife Services confirmed that wolves attacked three hunting dogs in the same incident. A 7-year-old walker hound was killed, a 4-year-old walker hound was injured, and a 10-month-old walker hound was also injured in Bayfield County.
- On 7/22/18, USDA Wildlife Services confirmed that two walker trailing hounds were injured by wolves in Douglas County.
- On 7/28/18, USDA Wildlife Services confirmed that a plott trailing hound was injured by wolves in Douglas County.
- On 7/29/18, USDA Wildlife Services confirmed that a walker trailing hound was injured by wolves in Burnett County.
- On 7/29/18, USDA Wildlife Services confirmed that a plott trailing hound was killed by wolves in Sawyer County.
- On 7/29/18, USDA Wildlife Services confirmed that a walker trailing hound was injured by wolves in Oneida County.
- On 08/05/18, USDA- Wildlife Services confirmed that two hunting dogs were depredated by wolves during the same incident.
- On 08/11/18, USDA- Wildlife Services confirmed that a hunting dog was depredated by wolves in the Town of Hughes, Bayfield County.
- On 08/19/18, USDA- Wildlife Services confirmed that one hunting dog was killed and a second hunting dog was injured by wolves during the same incident in the Dairyland Township, Douglas County.
- On 08/30/18, USDA-Wildlife Services confirmed that a hunting dog was attacked and injured by wolves in Ross Township, Forest County.
- On 08/31/18, USDA-Wildlife Services confirmed that two hunting dogs were depredated by wolves in the Town of Argonne, Forest County.
- On 09/13/18, USDA-Wildlife Services confirmed the depredation of hunting dog by wolves in the Town of Tomahawk, Lincoln County.
- On 09/15/18, USDA-Wildlife Services confirmed the depredation of a hunting dog by wolves in the Town of Delta, Bayfield County.
- On 9/18/18, USDA Wildlife Services confirmed that a plott hunting dog was injured by wolves in the Town of Laona, Forest County.
- On 9/23/18 USDA Wildlife Services confirmed that a redtick hunting dog was depredated by wolves in the Town of Tomahawk, Lincoln County.
- On 9/23/18 USDA Wildlife Services confirmed that a plott hunting dog was depredated by wolves in the Town of Fifield, Price County.
TO VIEW WDNR GRAY WOLF/DOG DEPREDATION PAGE, PLEASE VISIT: