Wisconsin hunters need more protection. That’s the adamant opinion of some Republicans who control the state Assembly. They’re pushing a bill designed to prohibit individuals from impeding or obstructing a hunter from his or her sport.
The Assembly Natural Resources and Sporting Heritage Committee held a public hearing Wednesday at the state capitol to discuss the legislation.
Representative Adam Jarchow says the bill he crafted especially goes after extremists who are harassing bear hunters in the woods. “This group known as the Wolf Patrol and it was originally formed when wolf hunting was legal and they would fight against legal wolf hunting in Wisconsin,” he says.
Jarchow says when a federal judge put the gray wolf back on the endangered list, and halted Wisconsin’s hunt, the patrol shifted its focus to bear hunters.
“Some of these folks will wait outside the homes of hunters where their families live, and wait for them to leave, so they can follow them around to their hunting sites. They’ll then follow hunters through the woods with video cameras documenting legal acts of hunting. This is much like stalking,” he says.
Robin Prince is one of the hunters who feels threatened. A resident of Clear Lake, she says bear hunting is part of her heritage.
“That being said, I don’t have a problem with people simply enjoying the outdoors – your berry picking, your hikers etc. I welcome them to the conversation; they don’t all agree with what I’ve got going on, but they have the request to ask question. The problem I have is when someone stalks me and my family – mainly my dogs. I don’t want someone waiting for me at the end of the driveway; waiting to follow me or film me without my permission,” Prince says.
Melanie Weberg says feelings of intimidation aren’t limited to hunters. The Polk County resident says rural, non-hunting residents feel vulnerable when bear hunters train their dogs.
“I know property owners in five counties – Rusk, Bayfield, Douglas, Burnett and Polk – who have been verbally and physically intimidated by parties of bear hounders during summer and fall. I know of a married couple in their 80s in Bayfield County, I didn’t mention that, who lost their beloved dog to a pack of bear hound dogs who were afraid to report it for fear of retaliation,” Weberg says.
Keri Lewis thinks the proposed law goes against First Amendment rights. Originally a Hayward resident, Lewis now lives in Milwaukee.
“Specifically freedom of speech, press, assembly and petition. I feel this act would hinder the public’s right to know what goes on during specific hunting season, for example bear hunting on public lands. I would also like to add the amendments in Bill 433 would restrict recreational activities for any person who would wish to be on public lands where there are hunters,” Lewis says.
The spotlight glared on Rod Coronado throughout much of the hearing. The Michigan resident created the Wolf Patrol.
“ I don’t think I’ve ever heard so much mudslinging against one organization in such a short period of time but it could all be answered by looking at the video tapes that we take on public lands of hunting activities that we believe negatively impact wildlife,” Coronado says.
The assembly committee spent a full half hour grilling Coronado. He maintains his activities are legal.
“We have never said anywhere on Wolf Patrol that we are opposed to hunting, but we are in favor of amending existing legislation and laws that effect wildlife and the way we do that is by participating in the public process and encouraging other people to participate in the public process. The way we do that is by showing them what those practices look like,” Coronado says.
Bill Welch with the Wisconsin Bear Association calls Coronado’s tactics blatant intimidation. “These activists should not be considered activists, but self-policing extremists who stalk, photograph, condemn, harass and videotape hunters who are abiding by their sport lawfully. I am fully supportive of this act protecting hunters’ rights and privacy as they lawfully hunt or trap,” Welch says.
While Wednesday’s debate was long and emotional, the Assembly committee did not make a decision on AB 433. That vote is left for another day.