Dog training can lead to depredation by wolves, which are overpopulated under federal control.
Dog training can lead to depredation by wolves, which are overpopulated under federal control.
BY NOW most bear hunters and a lot of others have been made aware of a pro-wolf entity that calls itself the Wolf Patrol, mostly from the videos they’ve posted online.

They begin by claiming to be researching and documenting bear hunting activity in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest with the purpose of studying conflicts between wolf packs and hound-running bear hunters.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that they are concerned about wolf depredation on bear dogs because it’s one of many reasons fueling bipartisan congressional legislation that would delist wolves in Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Wyoming.

Delisting would mean pretty much the end of federal interference with state management of wolf populations. Because Wisconsin has lost its right to manage these animals according to the state’s long-approved plan, wolves are currently overpopulated at nearly three times the management goal of 350 wolves.

Frustrated congressional leaders such as U.S. Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) want to exempt just four states from Endangered Species Act control to take liberal federal courts out of the management picture.

The Wolf Patrol video I watched attempts to establish a noble purpose at the start, but soon after their real agenda hits the screen — ending all bear baiting in the 1.5 million-acre national forest.

It’s funny that a group spokes­man who claims to be a researcher and not someone attempting to harass bear hunters would start a video with footage of taking over someone else’s long-established bait station in the national forest just east of Eagle River.

What he doesn’t get is that regardless of the law, there’s an unwritten code among bear hunters and dog runners that you don’t intentionally infringe on the territory of others.

And you certainly don’t take over an established bait station of another hunter or dog-runner just because you “got there first.” 

Find your own hollow log. Dig your own hole in the ground. Clear your own 100-yard trail. Scout and locate your own perfect site for a bear bait. Basically, be respectful of those who did the work before you.

The Wolf Patrol spokesman gets a little careless in the video, calling some hunters “criminals.” It always disturbs me when ignorant people don’t understand the premise of innocent until proven guilty, an American standard. 

If any violations were uncovered in their monitoring activities, most would be civil forfeitures as opposed to crimes. If the violation doesn’t rise to the severity of a crime, then the perpetrator isn’t a criminal. Only district attorneys make charging decisions on crimes.

But that’s the propaganda side of the videos, which attempt to put bear hunters in the worst possible light. And to me, that’s also a form of harassment.

Then there’s the part of the video where the man is standing just off the white line on the side of Highway 70 East, talking about the safety hazards of bear hunters parked off the road edge waiting for dogs or collecting their dogs.

But as far as I know, there’s never been an accident on Highway 70 related to bear hunting in all the decades it has occurred. And the people making the video also added to the congestion they are criticizing.

I will defend the sport of bear hunting with hounds and other dog-related hunting as being historically significant, a big part of the country’s hunting heritage.

Whether it’s a bird hunter behind a retriever or pointer, or a houndsman running raccoons or coyotes, the use of dogs for hunting is well-known and well-established.

There’s an additional argument for the use of bear hounds in Wisconsin, which has suddenly become the bear capital of the United States. Many property owners feel we’ve got too many bears in this state, and the use of bear hounds is important to make hunters as efficient and successful as possible in filling tags.

In a nutshell, the people who are making these videos don’t have any credibility as objective researchers trying to lessen conflicts between bear hunters and wolves.

They have a clear agenda against the practice of baiting bears in the national forest, all for the sake of lessening the odds of wolves depredating on hounds.

Knowing their true agenda, I believe their style of monitoring is a form of harassment. It is law enforcement that is charged with looking for game law violations, and hunters respect there’s a need for that regulation. 

It’s difficult to write on such a subject without reminding bear hunters that they are being watched and their actions are being judged, so it might be a good time for all to commit extra attention to following the rules.

Some hunters have fueled this fire of criticism by posting photos or videos on the internet and social media. They aren’t doing the sport any good by posting things that might be interpreted as violations of law.

Bear hunters don’t need some outside research entity advocating for caution near existing wolf packs. There’s not a good houndsman out there who would purposely run his or her dogs into a known wolf rendezvous area.

These well-trained dogs are precious, costly and often viewed affectionately as family pets. Hunters care deeply about their dogs and they work hard to avoid confrontations that might result in injury or death, whether that involves bears or wolves.

And bear hounds, well, they live for the chase. It’s what they are and it’s what they do best. It’s their purpose in life.

That’s the long and short of this little controversy, something I believe all hunters should know.

There are wolf enthusiasts who are working hard to give bear hunters a bad name, because they want baiting to end in the national forest.