With 1973’s Endangered Species Act wolves gained federal protection. Since that time dispersing populations from Minnesota and Canada have led to a slow recovery. Still, wolves have never returned to their original numbers or historical range within North America.
In 2011, after 38 years of recovery, federal protections for wolves were stripped away and a number of states quickly instituted wolf-hunting seasons. Amongst them were: Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Approximately 5,000 wolves have been killed since delisting in April of 2011.
Since that time the debate surrounding wolves’ endangered status has gone back and forth. Wolves of the Great Lakes states were again afforded federal protection when a federal judge struck down the most recent delisting of wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Today, only a few western states allow wolf hunting.
Methods of Wolf Hunting
There are three main methods of hunting wolves– via archery, gun, and by leg-hold trap or snare. Hunting wolves via traps and snares is the most controversial of methods. Approximately 85 countries around the world have banned the use of leg-hold traps, yet the United States and Canada still allow for this practice.
Critics of leg-hold traps cite their inhumane nature. Animals caught in leg-hold traps often die of prolonged suffering in the form of blood loss, hypothermia, or exhaustion. Traps frequently catch animals other than those intended by the hunter, and some animals gnaw off their own limbs to escape traps.
Wolf Patrol & Wildlife Issues
The Wolf’s Precarious Status
The Wolf Patrol campaign began in the late summer of 2014. At that time the campaign focused on Montana, and separately, the Great Lakes states. The issue at hand was wolf hunting and trapping.
A simple Google search about the history of wolves in the United States will reveal, to anyone who cares to look, that wolves were all but extirpated in the Lower 48 by the middle of the 20th Century. At that time only a small population of wolves remained in the far northern reaches of Minnesota.
Rod Coronado looks for wolves in Idaho.
In Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho some wolf hunting occurs in close proximity to Yellowstone National Park. Hunters and trappers come from all over the world in hopes of killing a large wolf leaving the protected areas of Yellowstone.
In the Great Lakes States Wolf hunting has historically occurred in the northern portions of each state.
Some incidents of poaching have been recorded in all regions; poaching is largely due to anti-wolf sentiment that arises from wolf / livestock conflicts (just outside Yellowstone in MT, and throughout the northern parts of MN, WI, and MI).
Wolf / Hound Conflicts
Conflicts between wolves and hunting hounds in the Great Lakes states, especially Wisconsin, have led to a hatred of wolves. These conflicts stem from the practice of hunting coyotes and bears with hounds, as you cannot currently hunt wolves with dogs in the Great Lakes region.
Wisconsin’s lax regulation of hound hunting produces an environment in which hounds frequently “run the woods.” When hounds run through wolf habitat, conflict occurs (see the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource’s “Dog Depredation By Wolves" informational site, at: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/wildlifehabitat/wolf/dogdeps.html).
Hunters who lose dogs to wolves have been seen making threats to wolves on hound hunting social media sites. Common claims include, “if the feds won’t let the state control wolves, we will,” “S.S.S.,” or “Shoot, Shovel & Shut-Up,” and “S.O.S.,” or “Shoot on Site.”
Wisconsin currently allows hunters to train their hounds in the forests from July 1st to April 14th of the following year.
Wisconsin also currently pays hunters up to $2,500 for each dog killed by a wolf. Wisconsin is the only state to reimburse hunters for dogs lost to wolves.
A hunting dog roams the northern WI forests.
To effectively hunt bears with hounds in Wisconsin many hunters “bait” bears with highly processed human foods (as opposed to using scents or “lures” like trappers do for other fur bearing animals). To condition bears for the actual hunting season, hunters are given 5 months during which they can bait bears. Common foods used in bear baiting operations include: donuts, chocolate, cereal, waffle cones, cookies, fryer grease, and other sweet foods that bear hunters can obtain cheaply in bulk (sometimes from local stores that are throwing away food).
During the 5 month baiting / conditioning season, hunters are given a 2 month training season in which they can run their dogs after bears without actually taking the bear. What this means is that hunters initially condition bears for 3 months at bait sites, practice chasing bears with their hounds while still conditioning bears at baits for an additional 2 months (“treeing” and harassing bears without actually killing them), and are then given 3 weeks to bring the practices of baiting and hounding together to chase bears through the woods, tree them, and kill them.
Critics of bear baiting / hounding practices point to the increased wolf / hound dog conflicts that happen during hounding season, and point out that baiting practices that utilize chocolate, sweets, and other foods, alter the natural diets of bears, and any other animals that are able to access these foods.
Much of Wolf Patrol’s work focuses on WI for the reasons stated above. Wisconsin’s lax hunting regulations and pro-hunting culture have led some to claim that the state is the most “bloodthirsty” in the country, and that allowing dogs to chase coyotes, bears, and other animals, amounts to “state sanctioned dog fighting.”
Wolf Patrol also believes that all wildlife is interconnected. The hunting and baiting of bears and other animals adversely affects all wildlife, including wolves.
To reiterate the problems with Wisconsin’s hunting culture:
Wisconsin is one of the only states to allow hound hunting of coyotes and bears.
Wisconsin is the only state that reimburses hunters for dogs killed by wolves in hunting accidents (up to $2,500 per dog, with a total payout close to $60k in 2015, according to the WI DNR).
Wisconsin holds some of the longest hunting and training seasons in the country and therefore allows wildlife to be harassed for much longer than any other state.
Wisconsin affords hunters with 4 more months of bear baiting opportunities than neighboring Minnesota.
Hunters in WI frequently take more bears than any other state in the lower 48; 5,000+ a year in recent years.
154 wolves were killed in WI’s 2014/15 hunt before wolves were again afforded engangered status in the Great Lakes states.
To learn more about these wildlife issues follow the below links:
Official Wolf Patrol wildlife issues blog
Timber Wolf Information Network
Gray Wolf Conservation Center
Gray Wolf History (Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks)
Animal Welfare Institute (info on leg-hold traps)
A typical "bear bait."