Since 2014, Wolf Patrol has conducted citizen monitoring of legal hunting practices, including the Summer training of bear hounds in wolf territory in the Washburn District of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest (CNNF). Last year, twenty-one bear hounds were killed by wolves in the CNNF between July 5-October 1st, including five in the area Wolf Patrol monitors. Our research suggests that Wisconsin’s minimally regulated bear hunting practices are contributing to that conflict.
Since Wisconsin’s bear hound training season began on July 1st, 2017, Wolf Patrol has maintained a base camp in the CNNF from which members monitor bear baiting & hound training practices. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) conservation officers invited Wolf Patrol to a meeting to clarify legality and also to talk about how best to de-escalate potential conflicts and avoid violence.
Since the 2016 passage of Wisconsin’s Right to Hunt Act, many bear hunters believe it has become illegal to film a hunt (or training/baiting) activity more than once, as the new law states on public land. In recent weeks, members of Wolf Patrol have encountered hound hunters who have told them monitoring bear hunting practices was illegal. Some of these interactions have come close to violence.
On July 20, 2017, four members of Wolf Patrol, (all involved with monitoring duties in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest since 2014) met with Department of Natural Resources conservation officers, a chief law enforcement officer with the U.S. Forest Service, members of the Bayfield County Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney. All agreed, that the situation warranted agreements by all parties to respect each other’s right to access and utilize the national forest, and allow both the legal practices of bear baiting & training as well as Wolf Patrol’s right to monitor those activities.
The DNR’s Regional Conservation Officer asked what Wolf Patrol’s ultimate goal was for the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Wolf Patrol monitoring coordinator, Rod Coronado, stated that the goal is to see bear baiting & bear hound training ended in the CNNF, but that Wolf Patrol was committed to working through legal channels, such as soliciting public comments to CNNF officials in favor of a ban on baiting & training, while also gathering data to provide both national forest officials and acting DNR conservation officers responsible for enforcing bear hunting/training/ baiting practices in our research area.
In accordance with local, state and federal laws, Wolf Patrol’s members affirmed their commitment to cooperate and work with county, state and federal authorities to ensure that both bear hunters and our own members’ rights are not violated, and that we remain open to working with law enforcement, public lands managers and the bear hunting community towards peacefully respecting and exercising everyone’s constitutional rights to utilize and enjoy our national forests lands.
Two years ago, the requirement of a “B” license to bait and chase bears in Wisconsin was eliminated at the request of the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association. This means that anyone can now come into the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest (CNNF) and other public lands, and dump thousands of gallons of food waste to attract bears, and then release any number of dogs to chase them. All in the Summer months, when bears and other wildlife should be storing energy for the long winter months.
This video shows only one bear hunting party operating the CNNF, yet today alone we documented at least three hunting parties in our small research area carrying out the same practices. A recent study published in The Journal of Wildlife Management and conducted by the Wisconsin DNR & University of Wisconsin researchers concluded that in their study area, also in the CNNF, bear bait comprises 40% of a black bears diet, and the artificially high caloric diet is actually increasing fertility and creating artificial dependence on human feeding.
From The National Park Service’s web page for Sleeping Bear Dunes in the neighboring state of Michigan:
“A single taste of human food or trash is enough to turn a wild bear into a food-conditioned bear… Sadly, bears that obtain human food may lose their natural fear of humans. Over time, they may become bold or aggressive in their attempts to obtain human food and become a threat to public safety. When this happens, the bear pays the ultimate price–it is destroyed.”
Minimally regulated bear baiting and hound training in Wisconsin is a ecological disaster, and means an increased possibility of bear conflicts with humans. Although the practices serve a small vocal minority of bear hunters with powerful political lobbyist paid for by the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, the practice needs to end in our national forest lands.
The only people benefiting from these practices are bear hunters. In a recent DNR survey of bear hunters, over 93% hunted with the aid of bait and/or dogs. If you agree that the practice of feeding bears and allowing hunters to train their dogs to chase them in Summer months needs to end in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, please send your comment to forest officials at:
If you’d like to read the recent study on bear baiting in the CNNF:
Wolf Patrol was on-sight for yet another coyote contest held near Mauston, Wisconsin at Jackson Clinic, a small tavern in Juneau County. Crew members patrolled the surrounding area beginning at sunrise on Friday, February 5 in order to establish areas where hunters may be looking for coyotes.
The weather that weekend made ideal hunting conditions, with above freezing temperatures which led Wolf Patrol to believe their would be much hounding activity on the day of the contest. The roads were well-maintained, making navigation in and around the the Bass Hollow State Natural Area, fully accessible. Hound and coyote tracks were evident throughout the territory our monitors patrolled.
Saturday, February 6 Wolf Patrol’s presence was patrolling roads surrounding Jackson Clinic, the establishment sponsoring the event. By 730am, members were able to document the first two trucks equipped with hound boxes. Minutes later a string of trucks were parked along the same road. The rest of the day revealed heavy traffic, with at least 15 different trucks traveling throughout the beautiful bluff country in Juneau County. At times, men with rifles could be seen standing near the roads edge, and other times caravans of trucks would be seen driving throughout the open farm roads. By 1100am the first dead coyote could be spotted on top of a hound box.
By 530pm the action was starting to die down on the previously busy rural roads, and after Wolf Patrol made a final lap, we headed to Jackson Clinic as the sun was starting to set. Although the weigh-in wasn’t due until 700pm, coyotes began being weighed at 545pm. In total, two coyotes were entered, which in turn won the all three categories of “smallest”, “largest” and “most.”
While waiting to see if any late arrivals would be submitted, Wolf Patrol crew members had the opportunity to speak to several residents and contest participants. The overall sentiment was that these hound hunters love to coyote hunt, and they love their dogs, even going so far as to say that they are the responsible hounders. Also, the consensus was that coyotes are a detriment to the local deer population. According to one gentlemen, “There’s nothing like the sound of my dogs running through the valley.” Later, bear hunting entered the conversation, and another hunter said “I don’t care if I kill another bear. I just like treeing them, and seeing what they’ll do, and letting them go.” Overall, the tone in this small bar was generally positive despite the actual killing of these beautiful predators, and the precarious position put on their dogs while pitted against a wild animal.
In conclusion, Wolf Patrol believes that encounters like these help us glean valuable information into the hound hunting lifestyle, and communities that participate in it. Despite disagreeing with the method by which this hunting occurs, and the general feeling of disregard for predators, our experience was a learning one; One that may help us make changes for the better for wolves and all of Wisconsin’s wildlife, by working with those that we oppose.
On January 17th, Wolf Patrol’s Wildlife Crimes Division received a report of suspected wolf poaching in the Washburn District of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest (CNNF). The report alleged that an unnamed individual had witnessed wolf poaching, allegedly by bear hunters in retaliation for eight hunting hounds that had been killed by wolves, since the bear hound training season began July 1st.
With the increase in the number of bear hunting hounds being killed by wolves in northern Wisconsin in recent years, Wolf Patrol has feared that these depredations would lead to retaliation killings, despite the fact that bear hound hunters are compensated from Wisconsin’s Endangered Species Fund, up to $2,500.00 for each hound killed by a federally protected gray wolf.
In July 2015, Wolf Patrol began its investigation of bear hound training and baiting in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, particularly in Bayfield County, where numerous hunting dogs had recently been killed by wolves. What we found was a high concentration of bear baits (19) in the Department Of Natural Resources’ (WDNR) “Wolf Caution Areas” which are designated once a depredation has occurred. Despite the advance warnings of wolves having been habituated to bear baiting sites, bear hunters continue to loose their hounds in the caution areas, and the result last Summer and Fall, was eight bear hunting hounds killed.
On January 18, as part of the WDNR’s Carnivore Tracking Program, Wolf Patrol volunteer trackers conducted a carnivore tracking survey in the Washburn District of the CNNF. The annual gray wolf survey helps, “to determine the number, distribution, breeding status, and territories of wolves in Wisconsin”. The volunteer survey is also a way to monitor the abundance and distribution of other medium-sized and large carnivores, as well as an attempt to determine the presence of rare carnivores such ass Canada Lynx and cougar.
Wolf Patrol monitors visited the Washburn district of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in July, twice in September and once in October. On all three occasions, wolf tracks and sign were easily found in the areas where bear baits were also concentrated. At the conclusion of the track survey on January 18th & 19th, no wolf sign had been detected in any of the areas where it had been documented last Summer and Fall.
Our concern is that illegal killing of wolves is taking place in areas with a high concentration of hound hunting for bear, coyote and bobcat. Online evidence continually reveals a high degree of contempt for federally protected gray wolves by the hound hunting community and it was our suspicion, based on the numerous documented threats against wolves by hound hunters in northern Wisconsin, that these very same people are taking vigilante-type measures to illegal kill wolves despite their federal protections.
Based on this suspicion, Wolf Patrol’s Wildlife Crimes Unit dispatched to Forest County, Wisconsin on January 20th, where a coyote hunting contest for hound hunters was being organized in Argonne, Wisconsin. Wolf Patrol monitors quickly learned that another coyote hunting contest had occurred the week previous to our arrival, and in that hunt, the Laona Hound Hunters claimed the prize money.
Wolf Patrol spent the days leading up to the Argonne coyote hunt slowly driving CNNF roads in Forest County, looking for wolf sign in areas where the competition hunt would later occur. Our concern being that during competitive coyote hunts, the illegal shooting of wolves misidentified as coyotes is probable, especially amongst sportsmen who already despise them. This concern was partially founded on the fact that contest organizers were offering a prize for the “largest” coyote, as well as for the most killed.
Our field patrols of the CNNF in Forest County found multiple canine tracks intersecting deer trails in the recently fallen snow, and along the Peshtigo River, a high amount of wolf sign, including evidence of not just one or two wolves, but what we suspect were numerous animals. We placed two trail cameras in the areas with wolf sign on publicly accessible roads to monitor for wolf and human activity leading up to the Argonne coyote hunt.
WP monitors also visited local establishments where the subject of wolves was openly discussed. A high level of animosity towards wolves was quickly discovered, and at the restaurant where the Argonne Coyote Hunt was being organized, I spoke with a hound hunter who openly stated that any wolf seen in the area, was a wolf killed. No questions asked. According to this hound hunter, area residents feared wolves were coming closer and closer to residential areas, so illegal taking was being rationalized as a means to prevent depredations by wolves.
On January 21st, Wolf Patrol investigators contacted lawyers and biologists with the Center for Biological Diversity to inquire as to the legal requirements for competition events on national forest lands. Numerous attempts have been made to prevent contest killings of wildlife on public lands by citing federal code 36 C.F.R. § 251.51 which states that any commercial activities, such as those like the coyote hunt that charge an entry fee, are required to apply for a Special Use Permit. We next visited the Laona, Wisconsin U.S. Forest Service office where inquiries were made about a Special Use Permit for the hunt. A regional representative informed Wolf Patrol that a determination had been made that a Special Use Permit was not necessary.
On January 21st, during local patrols of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in the Laona & Argonne areas of Forest County, numerous non-lethal marten hair traps set by University of Wisconsin researchers were located in the forests. Martens are one of the most endangered carnivores in Wisconsin. Wolf Patrol supports ongoing research projects by the University of Wisconsin to determine population and other biological information relating to the highly endangered marten.
On January 22nd, Wolf Patrol monitors returned to the Peshtigo River area where wolf sign had been earlier detected. Our monitors operate as experienced trackers who not only investigate wolf activity, but also human activity in wolf habitat. The entire purpose of our patrol this particular week, was to investigate human activities such as coyote hound hunting in areas where wolves are known to occur. The previously mentioned report of alleged wolf poaching by hound hunters led us to other areas where we knew hound hunters would be active in wolf territory.
At approximately 1000am on January 22nd, Wolf Patrol monitors identified human tracks leading off U.S. Forest Service roads along the Peshtigo River. The human tracks followed game trails, and following just twenty feet off the road, the tracks lead to the discovery of three small meat baits, measuring approximately two inches in diameter, each wrapped around a treble (three-pronged) fishing hook. The baits were dangling from monofiliment fishing line that could easily be broken by any carnivore swallowing the bait.
Approximately one hundred yards further down the same forest road, two more baited hooks were discovered. Wolf Patrol monitors documented the baits, obtained GPS coordinates, and then drove to nearby Laona, where WDNR was notified. We then returned to the bait site to await the arrival of the WDNR warden. While waiting for the warden, an additional bait was located in the same area, thus bringing the total number of discovered baited fish hooks to six.
At Approximately 1430hrs, a DNR conservation officer arrived on the scene and begun investigating the bait site. A determination was quickly made, that these were indeed illegal baits set for the intention of causing suffering and a slow death to any animal that ingested the hidden fish hooks.
Wolf Patrol would like to thank the investigating Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer who responded promptly and professionally to this serious violation of both state and federal wildlife laws. Wolf Patrol exists to assist all wildlife agencies in their enforcement of laws meant to protect and conserve the natural resources of our great country, and our reward program was created to aid in the capture and prosecution of wildlife criminals.
On January 23rd, Wolf Patrol monitors patrolled Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest lands within Forest County, where numerous hound hunters were seen prowling public lands, looking for coyote sign. Our intention was not to interfere, but simply to use our public presence to deter any illegal taking of gray wolves. Knowledge that our crew are in the field with handheld, vehicle-mounted, trail-cameras and drones serves as an alert to would be wildlife law violators that the illegal taking of wildlife will be witnessed, documented and prosecuted.
While the U.S. Forest Service did not require a Special Use Permit for the Argonne Coyote Hunt, because the event involved a raffle, the event fell under state gaming regulations that required an additional permit. For this reason, the public weigh-in of dead coyotes and the awarding of prize money was cancelled.
On January 23rd, Wolf Patrol announced a $5,000.00 cash reward for information that will lead to the prosecution and conviction of anyone responsible for the setting of illegal baits and traps for wolves in Wisconsin.
While we were relieved that six more wolves and/or coyotes or other predators did not ingest the illegal baits we uncovered, it’s ridiculous to believe that we were able to locate all the baits set by this particular poacher. More ominously, this discovery leads Wolf Patrol to conclude that wolf poaching is indeed taking place in the north woods of Wisconsin, and according to multiple reports, hound hunters are the prime suspects.
Wolf Patrol will continue to investigate suspected poaching activities on Wisconsin’s public lands, offer assistance to WDNR efforts to combat illegal hunting, and monitor hound hunting for coyotes and predator killing competitions in documented wolf territory as part of an effort to dissuade wolf poaching. We also will continue to conduct carnivore tracking surveys in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, monitor wolf activity in the Moquah Barrens and support efforts by WDNR to ascertain the most accurate assessment of gray wolf populations in Wisconsin as is scientifically possible.
Wolf Patrol will continue its reward program, and offers a no-questions asked cash reward to any individual who provides information that leads to the prosecution and conviction of wildlife criminals. If you or someone you know has evidence of a crime committed against Wisconsin’s wildlife, CALL or TEXT 1-800-TIP-WDNR (1-800-847-9367. To email a report of a violation not in progress: LE.email@example.com