What’s Next For Wisconsin Wolves?

Wolf Patrol’s report from the February 2021 recreational wolf kill in Wisconsin.

Exactly one year ago today, I was witness to one of the worst examples of wolf management since the gray wolf rebounded from the brink of extinction and back into their rightful home in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. It was the first day of a court-ordered recreational wolf season that was organized by Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) in less than a week. Earlier in 2021, WDNR testified at a Natural Resources Board meeting that no wolf hunt would move forward without a new management plan and public input from citizen’s and tribal interests.

Wisconsin wolf killed at night with aid of thermal imaging and electronic caller during the 2021 season.

What we saw instead, was a rushed process made possible because of court actions brought about by a pro-hunting lobbyist organization from out of state, operating on the request of politicians hell bent on killing as many wolves as possible the moment they were removed from federal protections.

It took less than a day for Wolf Patrol to document illegality in the poorly planned hunt, all of which was reported to WDNR wardens and all of which resulted in nothing more than verbal warnings. Even though we provided evidence of a convicted poacher who had lost his hunting privileges participating in the two-day slaughter of over 200 wolves, WDNR still turned a blind-eye to the blatant disrespect hound hunters had for hunting regulations during what can only be called the largest hound hunt for wolves in U.S. history.

Wisconsin wolves legally killed by hound hunters in February 2021.

As the quotas quickly filled in each “wolf management zone” many witnessed the successfully orchestrated campaign by wolf hunters to delay reported kills or simply not report them at all, so that the actual kill would go way beyond the legal quota, which was almost doubled due to the concerted effort by Wisconsin wolf hunters to kill as many wolves as possible during the two-day season.

Had it not been for the February 2022 court order that returned federal protection to wolves in Wisconsin, we would have been witness to another slaughter this coming November. Wolf Patrol was a signatory to that legal petition to the federal court, which was largely successful because of the horrible example of state wolf management Wisconsin demonstrated on February 28, 2021.

Young wolves like the one pictured made up the majority of wolves killed in 2021.

Despite Wisconsin’s wolves gaining a reprieve from another WDNR managed slaughter this November, wolves are a long way from enjoying the federal protections ordered in February 2022. Instead they continue to face skyrocketing rates of illegal hunting and a poisoning campaign that has been documented in the Northwoods for over three years now.

In addition, the number one cause of human/wolf conflicts in Wisconsin will continue to be WDNR’s almost nonexistent bear hunting regulations which allow an unlimited and unregulated 7-month bear baiting season coupled with a two month bear hound training season at the peak of Summer wolf activity. Both of these practices will again result in numerous instances of bear hounds being killed by wolves, and with it more public calls by Wisconsin hound hunters for an illegal campaign of wolf killing.

Bear hound depredations by wolves 2013-2021 according to WDNR.

Wolf Patrol was the first advocacy group to monitor Wisconsin’s hound hunt for wolves in 2014. That was the last recreational hunt for wolves before another judge ordered the animals returned to federal protections. Beginning in 2015, Wolf Patrol began investigating the annual bear hound depredations by wolves that coincide with the start of summer bear hound training season, and we quickly discovered that wolves as well as bears were being drawn to the estimated thousands of unregistered bear bait sites that are often placed on public lands.

This was one of the wolf hunters Wolf Patrol documented in 2014.

In Wisconsin, we also documented each year how despite WDNR’s establishment of “Wolf Caution Areas” following bear hound depredations, bear hunters continued bear baiting and hound training in the very same areas wolves had only days before killed free roaming bear hounds. In the years leading up to the February 2021 court-ordered recreational wolf slaughter in Wisconsin, we also witnessed the citation by bear hunters and politicians of these preventable hound depredations as the reason it was necessary to again have a wolf hunt in the state.

A wolf feeds alongside a black bear from one of the thousands of unregistered bear bait sites in Wisconsin.

This Summer will be no different. Come July, as thousands of hounds are released again in the Northwoods to trail bears from thousands of intentional feeding sites allowed by WDNR and the US Forest Service on our public lands, more bear hounds will die. It it important to remember that WDNR does not require any license or permit to bait bears in Wisconsin. Not only that, even nonresidents are welcome to bring hounds from out of state to chase and bait bears through known wolf territory and if and when they get killed, the culpable hound hunters will be compensated up to $2,500 for each hound killed. Even if more of their hounds get killed in the very same wolf caution areas, they will be compensated.

Since 1985, hound hunters have been paid more than any other group for wolf caused depredations.

It’s time to recognize that Wisconsin’s war over wolves will not end until the state’s lack of restrictions on bear baiting and hound training are addressed. It’s also time to recognize that the crisis created by the lack of regulations will not be addressed by the WDNR’s Bear Advisory Committee which is filled with bear and hound hunters. Nor will the lack of bear hunting regulations be reckoned with through Wisconsin’s Conservation Congress (WCC), which every year rejects citizen resolutions passed in multiple counties calling for more restrictions on bear baiting and hound training. Again, the WCC’s Bear Advisory Committee’s stated mission is to support bear hunting and increase bear hunting opportunities.

A Wisconsin bear hunter tries to convince Wolf Patrol to stop filming his hound training activities on public lands.

Addressing the root cause of Wisconsin’s ongoing conflict between wolves and bear hunters will have to be a political campaign, coupled with an ongoing citizen effort to force local authorities to address the continuing conflict hound hunters create not only for wolves, but private property owners, outdoor enthusiasts and even other bear hunters.

Wolf Patrol will continue its now 7-year campaign to expose the real culprits behind Wisconsin conflicts with wolves…hound hunters. Since 2015, Wolf Patrol’s citizen monitors have reported from the state’s many wolf caution areas where bear hounds are killed by wolves, and each year we have documented and reported gross noncompliance to even the minimal bear baiting regulations offered by WDNR. We have also continued to document the conditioning of wolves to being fed from Wisconsin’s bear baiting stations which at last estimate amounted to over 4 million gallons of bait being dumped on mostly public lands to attract bears so hound hunters can chase and kill them.

Beef calf carcass being illegally used to bait wolves during the February 2021 Wisconsin wolf slaughter.

It is also important to note that the poisoning of wolves and other wildlife is something that bear hunters have been promoting and will continue to promote especially when they are prevented from having a recreational wolf killing season in Wisconsin.

For these reasons, Wolf Patrol will again be monitoring the preventable conflict between bear hunters and wolves during the 2022 bear hound training and killing season. We are also asking all of our supporters to remain active on the state level and lobby your elected officials to address the lack of regulation on bear baiting and hound training in Wisconsin. Also, if you are a resident in an area with active bear baiting and hound training and hunting, consider offering to post not only your own land, but your neighbors as well and be ready to gather evidence when the inevitable hound hunter trespassing occurs. Report every incident to your local sheriff and keep records of every encounter with hound hunters.

And most importantly, get out to the Northwoods and celebrate the return of the gray wolf to its rightful home in Wisconsin! Despite the best of efforts by their enemies, wolves are here to stay. But their future is in your hands and should not be left to state authorities and judges to decide. The future of successfully recovered wolf populations requires continued vigilance by the citizens of Wisconsin and other states where they have returned. Only you can prevent wolf extinction!