Why do State and federal officials turn a blind-eye to violations of Endangered Species Act regulations?

What happens when hunters in pursuit of bear in Wisconsin repeatedly degrade gray wolf habitat in violation of ESA regulations section 9.

If the definition of harm includes significant habitat modification or degradation that significantly impairs essential behavioral patterns, such as pup rearing, then gray wolves are at risk by the actions of hunters baiting & running dogs through habitat protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Gray wolves in the western Great Lakes area, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, were relisted under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), effective December 19, 2014. Wisconsin’s Gray wolf is protected under the ESA.

Gray wolves are under protection according to Section 9 of the Endangered Species Act, ESA, prohibits any person, including private and public entities, from taking any listed species within the United States. “Take” is defined as “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or attempt to engage in any such conduct.”

The term “harm” is further defined by regulation to include “any act which actually kills or injures fish or wildlife,” and emphasizes that such acts may include “significant habitat modification or degradation that significantly impairs essential behavioral patterns including breeding, spawning, rearing, migrating, feeding, or sheltering.”

The following is a letter from the Center for Biological Diversity to officials regarding ESA regulations:

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, by authorizing actions that harm wolves, is subjecting itself to the risk of liability under Section 9 of the ESA. As explained above, Section 9 prohibits “take” of listed species, which includes harassment, pursuit, wounding and killing of listed animals. All of these prohibited acts can occur when hounds encounter wolves during training or hunting. Although the hunters and their dogs are the ones that directly cause the harm to wolves, the state agency can be held liable for authorizing these activities, and numerous lawsuits based on such a “vicarious liability theory” have been successfully brought against state agencies for authorizing hunting or trapping activities that harm listed species. See, e.g., Animal Welfare Inst. v. Martin, 588 F. Supp. 2d 70, 76 (D. Me. 2008). The Center has brought several such cases, including, for example, a case involving Maine Department of Inland Fisheries’ authorization of use of traps and snares in habitat occupied by endangered Canada lynx. See Center for Biological Diversity v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Serv., Case No. 15-CV-327- JAW (D. Maine).

…“significant habitat modification or degradation that significantly impairs essential behavioral patterns including breeding, spawning, rearing, migrating, feeding, or sheltering.” Yet in Wisconsin every spring, summer & fall, during essential pup hearing times, Bear Hunters using bait & running dogs through rendezvous sites are never cited for violations of ESA regulations.

According to the Endangered Species Act regulations section 9 these regulations are being ignored and or not enforced By federal & state officials in charge of protecting Gray wolves. I sent the following letter to USF&WS, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Secretary, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Board members, Chief Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Conservation Warden, Governor Tony Evers and Wisconsin Department of Justice.

I wrote a letter asking for clarification as to why ESA regulations are being ignored and or not enforced.

The following is my letter.

Dear Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Officials in charge of Endangered Species, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Board members,

I’m asking for clarification of ESA regulations regarding ‘harm’ of endangered species. I believe ESA regulations regarding Wisconsin’s Gray wolf have been ignored, and or not enforced by USFWS and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Officials. Every summer bear hunters run their dogs through wolf rendezvous sites repeatedly degrading Gray wolf habitat. I believe this is a clear violation of ESA regulations regarding an endangered species. This past summer a bear hunter released his older dog in known wolf territory, wolves killed his dog, and he went in looking for the dog. The hunter found two wolves had killed his dog and he shot at the wolves who were defending their rendezvous site. I’m looking for clarification as to why the following rule is ignored, not enforced by state & federal officials:

“This final rule defines the term “harm” to include any act which actually kills or injures fish or wildlife, and emphasizes that such acts may include significant habitat modification or degradation that significantly impairs essential behavioral patterns of fish or wildlife.” Source: https://www.fws.gov/endangered/laws-policies/definition-of-harm.html Endangered Species Act | Regulations and Policies | Definition of “Harm”
[Federal Register: November 8, 1999 (Volume 64, Number 215)]

I look forward to your response/responses.

Sincerely yours,

Rachel Tilseth


A Wisconsin Gray Wolf Photograph Credit Snapshot Wisconsin.

The following is a response to my letter.

Your email requesting clarification of ESA regulations regarding harm of endangered species has been shared with the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board; and with appropriate department staff for their response.

Please know that each Wisconsin Natural Resources Board meeting is webcast live and will then be permanently available on demand/archived. You can forward the following link and information to others so they can watch a recording of the Board meeting. Go to http://dnr.wi.gov/about/nrb/agenda.html and click Webcasts in the Related Links column on the right. Then click on this month’s meeting.

If you have not done so already, I encourage you to “subscribe” to future Wisconsin Natural Resources Board notices (e.g. agenda, brief of action, calendar) and receive email or text updates. You can do so under SUBSCRIBE at http://dnr.wi.gov/about/nrb/.

Best regards,

Laurie J. Ross
Natural Resources Board Liaison – Office of the Secretary Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
101 South Webster Street
P. O. Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707-7921
Phone: (608) 267-7420
Fax: (608) 266-6983
Email: laurie.ross@wisconsin.gov


In 2013 a study “Bear-baiting may exacerbate wolf-hunting dog conflict” by School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, Michigan Technological University, Houghton, Michigan, United States of America: They found that the neighboring states, with similar wolf and bear populations and similar numbers of bear-hunting permits issued per wolf, report dramatically different numbers of wolf attacks on hunting dogs. Wisconsin’s relative risk of attack is two to seven times higher than Michigan’s.

During the 2016 Wisconsin bear hunting season 37 hunting dogs were lost in the pursuit of bear.

If Gray wolves, a species protected under the Endangered Species Act, are being harassed by hunters baiting & using dogs to track and trail black bear, my question is why are these ESA regulations being ignored?

Relaxed Bear Hunting Regulations

It’s a mystery as to just how many dogs in pursuit of bear are running through the woods during training & hunting. Why is this a mystery? Because a change in regulations took place that removed the Class B bear training & hunting licence. Because of that change it’s impossible to know; just how many dogs in pursuit of bear are running through the woods. WODCW’s Blog

If the definition of harm includes significant habitat modification or degradation that significantly impairs essential behavioral patterns, such as pup rearing, then gray wolves are at risk by the actions of hunters baiting & running dogs through habitat protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Wolves are an imperiled species, that are a part of Wisconsin’s wild legacy, and are being pushed to the brink of extinction; by conservation policies that favor a group of fringe hunters. These special interest, fringe hunters take advantage of the current political environment. They cause harm to wildlife by the “loosening” of regulations; they pushed for the removal of the Class B bear training & hunting licence that allowed for an undetermined number of dogs running through wolf habitat. That could definitely be the cause of the 37 bear hunting dog deaths.

When the sport of pursing bear with dogs began in 1963 wolves were all but eradicated in the state of Wisconsin.

Bear baiting begins earlier in Wisconsin and lasts longer, the scientists note. “The longer you bait, the more opportunity you provide for wolves to discover and potentially defend bear-bait sites,” says Bump. “Most hunters release their dogs at bait sites, and the longer the bait has been around, the more likely hunting dogs are to encounter territorial wolves who have found and are possibly defending the bait. So it appears that baiting is an important factor.”

“Broken and crushed legs, sliced-open abdomens and punctured lungs. Dogs lying mangled and dying on the surgery table — all in the pursuit of sport.” Joe Bodewes, Veterinarian from a letter in the Wisconsin State Journal dated Sep 24, 2013.

Wolf Depredation of a hunting dog in pursuit of black bear.

If hunter’s dogs are being killed in such a horrific manner, then what are the consequences to wolves, an endangered species, that are defending pups against hunter’s dogs in pursuit of bear? Furthermore, this all occurs during essential pup rearing times.

Gray wolf pups are usually born in mid April and by summer are about four months old when hunters begin training season & running their dogs in pursuit of bear. Typically wolves will leave these pup with babysitters at rendezvous sites while they are off hunting. Gray wolves are never far from their pups and are always on guard. They will defend their pups from packs of free ranging hunting dogs. If wolves are constantly having to guard and defend their pups how does it affect their ability to rear pups? Isn’t this a significant violation of ESA regulations section 9.

A Wisconsin Gray wolf pup. Photograph credit WDNR.

WDNR puts out warnings, wolf caution areas, on their website when there is a wolf depredation on a hunting dog. Hunters are reimbursed up to $2,500.00 for each dog killed while in pursuit of black bear during training and hunting seasons. Is this payout an incentive to ignore wolf caution warnings?

This past summer a bear hunter released his older dog in known wolf territory, wolves killed his dog, and he went in looking for the dog. The hunter found two wolves had killed his dog and he shot at the wolves who were defending their rendezvous site.

In conclusion, I’m watching & waiting for a response to my letter. I want to know: Why do State and federal officials turn a blind-eye to Endangered Species Act regulations when hunters repeatedly degrade gray wolves in Wisconsin?

Here’s what you can do: Email Laurie J. Ross
Natural Resources Board Liaison – Office of the Secretary Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources at laurie.ross@wisconsin.gov and ask her to add my letter to the board’s agenda.

This conflict between Wisconsin’s gray wolf and hunters using bait & running dogs on black bear is ongoing. There seems to be no end insight and these hunters are reimbursed for lost dogs. Are these hunters ignoring ESA regulations and continuing the conflict in the hopes this will get them a season on wolves?

Wisconsin Public Television segment is from 2010 concerning bear hunters & wolves.