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Wolf Advocates, Bear Hunters Take To The Woods

Wolf Patrol Monitors Hunt Despite New Hunter Harassment Law In Effect

Hunting dog barking
Cowgirl Jules (CC-BY-NC-SA)

As Wisconsin’s bear hunting season ramps up, a wildlife protection group has started documenting hunter activity in Bayfield County’s Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. It’s the first year such groups face an increased level of potential scrutiny under a new state law seeking to prevent hunter harassment.

The law passed earlier this year prevents things like disturbing hunting stands or baits used to attract animals. It also prohibits repeated acts of watching, recording or confronting hunters.

Rod Coronado, founder of the group Wolf Patrol, said they seek to highlight, expose and change hunting practices they believe endanger wolves, such as bear baiting and using dogs. The group is monitoring sites where wolves have killed bear hounds in Bayfield County during the last month. Coronado said they saw about six trucks loaded with dogs Wednesday, the first day hounds could be used during this bear season.

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“And one of those hound trucks had a customized license plate that said, ‘No Wolves,’” Coronado said. “That, to us, indicates sentiments of a lot of these people who, rather than avoid areas where a bear hound has been killed, they just have a great animosity towards wolves. That’s why we want to be seen, and we’re in these areas is because, yes, we believe that some of these people will try to illegally kill a wolf.”

In an email Wednesday, Lucas Withrow, vice president of the Wisconsin Bear Hunters’ Association, said hunters shouldn’t have to worry about interference.

“We should not have to worry nor fret about individuals whom feel it necessary to interfere or harass us while participating in a state-licensed hunting event, while using another non hunted species of animal for an excuse to do so,” Withrow wrote.

Law enforcement was patrolling the national forest to prevent any conflicts with Wolf Patrol, Withrow added. Bayfield County Sheriff Paul Susienka believed they had received complaints about both hunters and observers as of late afternoon Wednesday, but couldn’t confirm them. Coronado said they didn’t observe or report any illegal activity to authorities, noting he hadn’t been notified of any complaints against his group from the county, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources or U.S. Forest Service.

Both bear hunters and wolf advocates said they want to avoid conflict.

“We hope to continue to enjoy our sport with as minimal conflicts as possible with wolves and or people whom do not align with our hunting roots and values,” wrote Withrow on Wednesday.

Coronado agreed they’re not looking for confrontation, but he would like to see the sport cleaned up.

“There needs to be a little bit more regulation if we’re going to minimize conflict between bear hunters and federally protected wildlife,” Coronado said.

Coronado would like to see an end to bear baiting in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Wolves and other animals are being conditioned to associate food with humans, he added.

“They’re creating a potential public safety risk,” Coronado said. “There’s a lot of people who just hike, horseback ride and mountain bike in these areas that are also being bear-baited.”

Superior Outfitters owner Mike Noskoviak provides guided trips for bear hunters in northern Wisconsin. He said it’s very rare for wolves to go near bear bait.

“They’re not really baiting with stuff that would draw wolves,” Noskoviak said. “Occasionally, wolves do come into a bear bait, but it’s usually at night when there’s nobody there hunting it.”

Noskoviak has guided 17 bear hunts this season on private land. Regardless of where people hunt, he said hunters have a right to participate in a legal state-sanctioned activity without interference.

“If they’re out there lingering around somebody’s hunting stand where they’ve been luring bears in for the purpose of hunting bears, that’s molesting their hunt, and that is hunter harassment,” he said.

Coronado said his group has been filming baits in the national forest, but said they’re not filming hunters or disturbing what they find. The group will continue monitoring activity on public lands through Thursday, Sept. 22, he said.

“I have every right to be here just as much as they do,” Coronado said. ‘If bear hunters and bear baiters don’t like the public infringing on their sport, then they should do it on private property.”

Clarification: A previous version of this story reported that law enforcement had received reports of conflicts with Wolf Patrol. The story has been updated to clarify that law enforcement was patrolling the area to prevent conflicts.

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