A hound chases a wolf through Steve Beining’s property. (Steve Beining)
A group of conservation and wildlife protection organizations have sent a petition to the U.S. Forest Service asking the agency to ban hunting with hounds within the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest (CNNF) in northern Wisconsin.
The controversial practice is common among Wisconsinites who hunt bears, coyotes, fox, bobcats and, when allowed, wolves. Opponents of hounding say that the practice is harmful to both the wildlife and the hunting dogs, who often end up in the vet with serious injuries after encounters with large predators.
The petitioners argue that the use of hounds is a threat to the diversity of the wildlife in the national forest and a safety risk to its visitors.
The CNNF covers more than 1.5 million acres of land across six northern counties. The use of hounds to hunt in the forest is currently allowed during the state’s dedicated hounding seasons.
The petition was spearheaded by the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf & Wildlife, but more than a dozen other organizations have signed on. The mechanism for petitioning the agency is the Administrative Procedure Act, which allows any person or group to request that the federal government issue, amend or appeal a rule.
“The CNNF provides crucial habitat to numerous wildlife species, ranging from wolves to warblers,” the petition states. “Every year, hundreds of thousands of people visit the CNNF to view these species and the natural features the CNNF provides. To protect people and wildlife in the CNNF, the Forest Service has advised visitors to keep their dogs on leash. However, every year, thousands of dogs are let off-leash, often in packs, to chase and harass wildlife like black bears, coyotes, foxes, and bobcats in the CNNF. In doing so, these dogs reduce the abundance and diversity of wildlife in the CNNF and threaten the safety of those who visit it.”
The petition argues that allowing hounds within the forest violates the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) because the use of hounds is harmful to two species that live within the CNNF — wolves and a rare plant species.
The ESA prevents the killing, harassing or harming of a listed species. The petition states that allowing the hounds within the forest, even if they’re chasing an unlisted animal such as a bear or bobcat, can have harmful effects on the wolf population.
When hounds and wolves come into contact, it’s possible that the hunting dogs — which are not required to be vaccinated under state law — can transfer infectious diseases such as parvo, distemper or mange to the wolves.
Collette Adkins, a senior attorney and carnivore conservation director for the Center of Biological Diversity, says that because it was legal to hunt wolves in Wisconsin as recently as 2021, hounds may still catch their scent and chase them.
“Wolves are listed again,” Adkins says. “There’s no way to prevent those hounds — when they’re chasing down bear, coyote or bobcat — picking up the scent of those wolves and having these awful run-ins.”
The petition also argues that the use of hounds can harm the endangered Fassett’s locoweed, a plant species that only grows in Wisconsin at nine sites — two of which are in the CNNF. Because hunting hounds are unleashed and allowed to roam far from their owners, the petition states the plants are put at risk of being trampled.
“At these sites, signs have been placed that inform the public of the presence of Fassett’s locoweed. However, nothing in the Forest Service’s planning documents or monitoring and evaluation reports indicates that these sites are fenced off or otherwise protected from access,” the petition states. “Packs of dogs used by hound hunters are not restrained by a leash and they often roam far beyond the hunter’s sight. If they encounter these sites, dogs can trample plants and alter the soil chemistry through their waste … these impacts can cause substantial harm to Fassett’s locoweed plants and hinder the Forest Service’s efforts to conserve them.”
Adkins says the groups have turned to the federal government to prevent the use of hounds because the Wisconsin state government would never ban the practice due to the political power of the state’s hound hunting interest groups.
“[The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources] said this will never, ever happen, it’s such a powerful group,” she said. “I hope the Forest Service would be amenable to [the petition] because there’s no way to push the state manager off of [hounding].”
With no hope for change on the state level, the petitioners were forced to try their luck with the federal government — though that can have its own pitfalls. Adkins says the petition process will take at least a year and that she has one petition that’s been pending for six years.
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