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.

Action Alert: Contact Wisconsin’s DNR Bear Advisory Committee Concerning the Baiting of Black Bears…

…The Following research concerning the baiting of black bears: Consumption of intentional food subsidies by a hunted carnivore revealed some very startling results.  Researchers  found that; humans are influencing the ecosystem not only through top-down forces via hunting, but also through bottom-up forces by subsidizing the food base. 

In July 2017 I wrote about the new Bear baiting research. This research on bear baiting in Wisconsin is even more relevant now because of the recent news: Officials in Florida have arrested nine people in connection with the “illegal baiting, taking and molestation” of black bears following a yearlong investigation into the crimes. (Source) One of the nine arrested had been hunting bear in Wisconsin, such cruelty towards wildlife knows no bounds! But now is the time to demand justice for our wildlife!

Perhaps changes will happen now with a new Governor and new DNR Secretary. That’s why I’m recommending that activists contact the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources  Bear Advisory Committee  because the following research concerning the baiting of black bears: Consumption of intentional food subsidies by a hunted carnivore revealed some very startling results. 

The baiting of black bear starts in April and goes through to the end of September. That’s roughly six months of intentional food subsidies being fed to a carnivore. Not to mention, that’s a lot of disruption to the black bear’s natural habitat. Over four million gallons of bait is dropped in the woods for the purpose of hunting black bear. Bears are fed donuts, gummy bears, and cereal. Donuts have a high volume of calories, some doughnuts contain partially hydrogenated oils, which aren’t healthy for the heart, and most doughnuts are made with white flour. Glazed doughnuts contain 210 mg of sodium. 

Black bears are omnivores that eat food of both plant and animal origin.

It’s no surprise that baiting black bear is a cause for alarm. It’s been controversial for a number of years. But what’s interesting now is the research points out a number of problems resulting from the baiting of black bear. 

Female consumption of high caloric food subsidies can increase fecundity (the ability to produce an abundance of offspring or new growth; fertility), and can train cubs to seek bear baits. According to the research this can increase a population above its ecological carrying capacity. 

Black bears are omnivorous and spend spring, summer & autumn foraging for Native Forage, included known bear foods; berries, acorns, grasses and sedges, other plants, and white-tailed deer.  

Today, black bears in Wisconsin are being conditioned to search out human foods placed at bear baiting stations. This is influencing the black bears natural habitat. Researchers  found that; humans are influencing the ecosystem not only through top-down forces via hunting, but also through bottom-up forces by subsidizing the food base. 

The Researchers found that if food subsidies (bait) were removed, bear-human conflicts may increase and bears may no longer be able to subsist on natural foods. 

During its first century, Yellowstone National Park was known as the place to see and interact with bears. Hundreds of people gathered nightly to watch bears feed on garbage in the park’s dumps. Enthusiastic visitors fed bears along the roads and behaved recklessly to take photographs.

High availability of energy-rich food can also alter denning chronology, shortening the denning period. 

The “heart” in conservation is missing when a species is managed for the sole purpose of harvesting it. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources estimates; most recent data indicates the bear population is currently estimated to be just under 29,000 bears. DNR manages bear population size through regulated hunting. In the end, black bears are managed for economic gain through hunting. 

Individual species should and must be managed for the good of the species and the habitat it depends.  “Do not feed the wildlife.”  Let’s bring back the heart of conservation.

Can we learn from our past mistakes? Don’t feed the bears! Watch the following video.

Wisconsin’s Gray Wolf Needs Your Help…

Every summer hunters running dogs on Black Bear in the north woods come into conflict with Gray wolves. Gray wolves keep their three month old pups at rendezvous sites while they go hunting. Conflicts arise when bear hunters run their dogs through rendezvous sites because gray wolves are forced to defend vulnerable pups from free ranging packs of hunting dogs.

Bear Hunters and Wolves

In the 1960s Wisconsin started allowing the use of dogs in the pursuit of bear. At that time there were maybe a handfull of wolves in Wisconsin if any. Wolves were not a threat to bear hunters because they were all but wiped out of Wisconsin by the 1960s.  It all changed for bear hunters when Wisconsin Wolf recovery began in the late 1970s.

This conflict between bear hunters and wolves isn’t new. Watch the following Wisconsin Public Television piece from 2010.

A Brief History on Wisconsin’s Gray Wolf

In 1967 and 1974 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated the eastern timber wolf a federally endangered species. In 1975, wolves were listed as a state endangered species as they began to recolonize along the Minnesota border. Wolves crossed over into Wisconsin from Minnesota and established territories on their own. Today, Wisconsin’s Gray wolf is listed on the Endangered Species List. Final Rule to Delist – – Due to a Federal court decision, wolves in the western Great Lakes area (including Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin) were relisted under the Endangered Species Act, effective December 19, 2014.

Wisconsin’s Gray Wolf Current Population

The 2017-18 overwinter minimum wolf count is 905-944, a 2.2% decrease from the 2016-17 minimum count of 925-956.

Carrying capacity is an ecological term for the number of a given species that an ecosystem can sustainably support. Socialcarrying capacity, however, refers to the number of a species that people feel is appropriate.

Wisconsin Black Bear Hunters use dogs to track and trail bears. Conflicts arise when a hunter’s dogs run through Gray Wolf’s rendezvous sites where pups are kept. Rendezvous sites are:

Rendezvous Site Identification and Protection source WDNR Endangered Resources

Active Season for Rendezvous Sites: mid-May – mid-October

Habitat: Rendezvous sites are generally open areas of grass or sedge adjacent to wetlands. The sites are characterized by extensive matted vegetation, numerous trails, and beds usually at the forest edge. Rendezvous sites are often adjacent to bogs or occur in semi-open stands of mixed conifer-hardwoods adjacent to swamps. Sometimes abandoned beaver ponds are used as rendezvous sites.

Description: Rendezvous sites are the home sites or activity sites used by wolves after the denning period, and prior to the nomadic hunting period of fall and winter. Pups are brought to the rendezvous sites from dens when they are weaned, and remain at rendezvous sites until the pups are old enough to join the pack on their hunting circuits. Rendezvous site may be associated with food sources such as ungulate kills or berry patches. Generally a series of rendezvous sites are used by a specific pack. Rendezvous sites are mostly used from mid-June to late-September, but use may start as early as mid-May and may continue to early or mid-October. Some intermittent use of rendezvous sites may continue into the fall. It appears that the average number of rendezvous sites used by wolf packs is 4-6.

Although den and rendezvous sites each serve separate functions for wolves, they are sometimes used interchangeably. Excavations sometimes occur at rendezvous sites and these may be used as den sites in the future. Sometimes rendezvous sites may represent old den site areas. Therefore, a site used as a rendezvous site one year, could be used as a den site the next year or vice versa. Due to the transient use of rendezvous sites, special protections are not necessary. If recent excavations are observed indicating possible use as a den site, protocols in place for den site protection should be followed. Source

“Most Wisconsin citizens want at least some wolf presence in the state, but those who feel strongly, at either end of the spectrum, drive the argument.” Lisa Naughton, UW-Madison geography professor.

Wisconsin DNR puts out the following when there is a wolf depredation on hunting dogs:

When wolves attack dogs in hunting or training situations on public land, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will create wolf caution areas to warn hunters that a specific pack has attacked a dog or group of dogs. Bear hunters are urged to exercise greater caution if they plan to train hounds or hunt bear with hounds near any caution area, especially if near an actual kill site. Table 1 contains a summary of the 2018 dog depredations by wolves.

When a wolf depredation takes place on a Bear hunter’s dog he is compensated $2,500.00 per dog. Wisconsin’s wolf depredation program began in 1982, and soon afterwards bear hunters running dogs in pursuit of bear began receiving payouts. The payouts for wolf depredations were paid in the effort to help compensate hunters, livestock owners and residents living in wolf recovery areas.

We must mitigate the decades old conflict between bear hunters and wolves…

In 2015 Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association (WBA) worked at loosening regulations for bear hunters using dogs in pursuit of bear. 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 license. Because of that change it’s impossible to know; just how many dogs in pursuit of bear are running through the woods. It’s all carefully crafted propaganda to make the wolf look bad. 

I started working on the Wisconsin wolf recovery program as a volunteer Winter Wolf Tracker in the year 2000. I lost track of how many “no-wolf” bumper stickers were encountered in a day of tracking in the the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. This conflict between bear Hunters and wolves is decades-old.

It’s time we begin to address the conflict!

There are a few of us beginning to work towards addressing the conflict between bear hunters and Wisconsin’s Gray wolf.

You can help by emailing me at wolvesdouglasco@gmail.com for more information.

Then, I can add you to our email updates.

The conflict between bear hunters and wolves has become polarized into opposing factions that polarize any campaign to remedy it. I propose we break through and start to mitigate the conflict.

Contact your Wisconsin State Representative. Wisconsin’s Gray wolf needs your help.

In Wisconsin the Black Bear’s Natural Habitat is Under Threat Through Subsidizing Their Food Source for Hunting

Today, black bears in Wisconsin are being conditioned to search out human foods placed at bear baiting stations. This is influencing the black bears natural habitat. Researchers found that; humans are influencing the ecosystem not only through top-down forces via hunting, but also through bottom-up forces by subsidizing the food base.

Black bears are omnivorous and spend spring, summer & autumn foraging for Native Forage, included known bear foods; berries, acorns, grasses and sedges, other plants, and white-tailed deer.

In Autumn Black Bears search out natural forage such as apples & acorns. For hundreds of thousands of years black bears have lived by nature’s rhythms.

The baiting of black bear starts in April and goes through to the end of September. That’s roughly six months of intentional food subsidies being fed to a carnivore. Not to mention, that’s a lot of disruption to the black bear’s natural habitat. Over four million gallons of bait is dropped in the woods for the purpose of hunting black bear. Bears are fed donuts, gummy bears, and cereal. Donuts have a high volume of calories, some doughnuts contain partially hydrogenated oils, which aren’t healthy for the heart, and most doughnuts are made with white flour. Glazed doughnuts contain 210 mg of sodium.

The research was published last year in a research article, Consumption of intentional food subsidies by a hunted carnivore that reveals some startling results.

It’s no surprise that baiting black bear is a cause for alarm. It’s been controversial for a number of years. But what’s interesting now is the research points out a number of problems resulting from the baiting of black bear.

Female consumption of high caloric food subsidies can increase fecundity (the ability to produce an abundance of offspring or new growth; fertility), and can train cubs to seek bear baits. According to the research this can increase a population above its ecological carrying capacity.

More from WODCW’s Do not feed the bears.

You can help change this reckless policy of over-baiting Wisconsin’s black bear.

Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin encourages citizens to contact the Bear Advisory Committee

Contact information

For information about the Bear Advisory Committee, contact:

Maggie Stewart

Assistant big game ecologist

608-261-7588

The Bear Advisory Committee is a diverse group representing agency, non-agency, tribal and stakeholder interests. The committee meets to propose bear quota recommendations and advises the Wildlife Policy Team on a variety of topics such as population monitoring and research priorities. Department leadership considers proposed quotas in developing department recommendations for Natural Resources Board approval.

We must consider the life of every wild animal as an individual, who shares this planet and its resources along with us…human-animals. We must ‘do no harm! ~Rachel Tilseth

Wolves of Douglas County Wisconsin believes Compassionate Conservation is the future. WODCW believes in Compassionate Conservation developed by Born Free Foundation.

First, do no harm as a commitment to prioritising non-invasive approaches in conservation research and practice, and an acknowledgement that invasive interventions may harm individuals, populations, and ecosystems.

Individuals matter in conservation research and practice, not merely as units of species and populations, and should be treated with compassion both in the wild and in captivity

Valuing all wildlife as worthy of conservation effort, whether native or introduced, whether common or rare, and regardless of perceived usefulness to humans

Peaceful coexistence with wildlife is the ultimate aim guiding compassionate conservation practices