Gray wolf (photo from Pixabay)
A member of the committee responsible for establishing how wolves will be managed in Wisconsin has twice been cited for violations of state trapping laws, court records show.
Patrick Quaintance, a former warden with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), is a member of the Wolf Management Plan Committee (WMPC) — which is working to update the state’s plans for managing its wolf population for the first time since 2007.
Members of the committee are appointed through their membership of groups involved in wolf issues across the state, including hunting groups, the state’s Native American tribes and conservation groups. Quaintance is on the committee as a member of pro-hunting group Wisconsin Wolf Facts.
In January 2016, Quaintance, who said he was unable to comment for this story because he was out hunting during the first week of gun deer season, was cited for illegally trapping and baiting in an incident in which he placed traps too close to some trees and too close to an exposed deer carcass. In this incident, one of Quaintance’s traps accidentally caught and killed a deer.
He also serves as president of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and has a seat on the Wisconsin Conservation Congress where he sits on the bear and fur harvest committees. He’s also the president of the Wisconsin Association of Sporting Dogs and an advocate for the controversial practice of using dogs to hunt bears and wolves.
The work of the WMPC has been closely watched by hunters and conservationists as the members work to establish how wolves will be treated in the state in the future while this year’s scheduled wolf hunt remains a massive political fight.
Quaintance pushed for the controversial wolf hunt held in February, telling the Duluth News Tribune, without evidence, that the wolves in his area are becoming unafraid of people.
“I would recommend that we have a wolf season as soon as possible,’’ Quaintance said in January.
Conservation groups and wildlife advocates believe his previous trapping violations, in addition to what they see as anti-wolf views and abusive use of dogs for hunting predators, should disqualify him from service on a body such as the WMPC.
“[He’s] truly a fearmongerer and not dealing in facts or reality,” Amy Mueller, a member of the wildlife committee of the Wisconsin chapter of the Sierra Club, says. “Someone who has been convicted of any kind of hunting or trapping violation is not a reflection anyone would want on any committee, let alone one of that stature.”
Anti-wolf hunting advocates also believe previous citations for illegal trapping are especially problematic because Quaintance spent decades as a warden with the DNR and therefore should know the rules.
“Wardens know the rules and his anti-wolf, anti-science rhetoric on the committee, paired with wildlife crimes, and abuse of domestic dogs, does not make him fit,” Melissa Smith, executive director of Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf and Wildlife, says.
“The cable restraint [on Quaintance’s trap] was set within reach of a 2” diameter tree,” Quaintance’s citation from the DNR, obtained by the Wisconsin Examiner through an open records request, states. “The second cable restraint that had been set was approximately 60 yards further south and illegally set within 16 ½’ of a staked down animal carcass part (sight exposed deer rib cage). This 2nd set was also within reach of (2) 1” diameter trees. These cable restraints cannot be set within 25’ of sight exposed animal meat/carcass nor can they be set so the restraint device reaches any part of rooted woody vegetation over ½” diameter. Each one of these three violations could be a separate citation, however one citation issued.”
Cable restraint traps are mostly used to catch coyote, red or gray foxes and bobcats, according to Shawn Rossler, furbearer biologist at the DNR. Conservationists say Quaintance’s disregard for the rules when trapping other types of large mammals reflects on his fitness to weigh in on wolf management.
Quaintance’s citation was referred to the Bayfield County Circuit Court and he requested a jury trial to fight the charge of illegal trapping/baiting. However, when the scheduled date of the trial arrived, Quaintance didn’t show up and he was found guilty after his nonappearance was taken as a plea of no contest.
He paid a fine of $263.10 for the trapping violation and a fee of $638.32 for the jury costs, court records show.
Mueller says the fact that this illegally set-up trap incidentally caught a deer means it was dangerous to others in the forest.
“That is bad news and any ethical hunter should know better,” she says. “What wouldn’t that have killed? A child, someone’s dog? To say that wolves are an issue when really he’s the danger to society is sort of ironic.”
In January 2017, Quaintance was issued another citation. This time, he had trapped and killed a fisher in Bayfield County only to realize his carcass tag was only valid in a different part of the state. Once he realized he didn’t have a proper tag for the small weasel-like animal, he called then-Chief Wisconsin Conservation Warden Todd Schaller, who told him to call the local wardens.
Quaintance told the local warden that the gas station attendant he purchased the tag from must have put the wrong zone.
Eventually, Quaintance was issued a citation for hunting/trapping without a valid carcass tag, but the charge was dismissed.
The DNR report states that in addition to immediately making a personal call to the chief warden, Quaintance had previous personal relationships with both the investigating warden and the Bayfield County District Attorney. He also told the investigating warden that he would have let himself off with a warning.
“In his career, Quaintance would not have written this citation or the one he was issued previously,” the report states. “Quaintance stated he had let a Hunter Safety Instructor and the wife of a Judge off for fishing violations.”
Cynthia Samels, an animal advocate and Bayfield County resident who knows Quaintance, says these types of mistakes shouldn’t be made by a career conservation warden.
“Especially given what he did for a living, you don’t make these mistakes,” Samels says. “These are not juvenile, first year, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’ mistakes. He’s a grown man who’s been hunting his whole life and was in charge of bringing people like him to justice. He thinks he can break the rules because of who he knows and the positions he’s in.”
Advocates for the wolves say they understand there’s a need for hunters’ voices to be included in the debate over the wolf management plan. However, they also say it should be possible to find someone who hasn’t violated the state’s trapping laws and Quaintance’s inclusion reflects badly on the committee’s chair, DNR large carnivore biologist Randy Johnson.
“There’s no way he should be awarded a voice on the DNR Wolf Management Plan Committee,” Mueller says. “It’s clearly a biased position. I don’t think that’s the best representation that Randy and the DNR team could’ve put forward.”
Mueller adds that a previous conviction for violation of the state’s hunting laws should disqualify a person from serving on the committee.
A spokesperson for the DNR did not respond to a request for comment.
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