“The idea you’re going to regulate who can take photos on public land is pretty shocking. You don’t see laws like that anywhere in the free world.” ~ Justin Marceau, Animal Legal Defense Fund, law professor, University of Denver
On Wednesday, Oct. 28, the “sporting heritage” committees of the Assembly and Senate held overlapping hearings on what legislators persistently referred to as “important legislation.”
You can watch the video of the hearing here on Wisconsin Eye.
These twin bills concern “interfering with hunting, fishing, and trapping and providing criminal penalties.” AB 433 and SB 338 expand the current definition of hunter harassment to maintaining a visual or physical proximity to a hunter or approaching, confronting or photographing him or her. The text and legislators supporting these bills can be seen here and here.
Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, who is not a hunter, suggested that current hunter harassment and stalking laws already protect hunters. He claimed that citizens have a right to record legal and illegal practices in order to work for policy changes in the governance of our public lands.
Some laws cannot be morally justified. This legislation would expand hunter abuses that are already protected. Baiting and running dogs on bears for months before killing them would be protected from citizen scrutiny.
Most nonhunter citizens have never seen hounding, or been attacked by a pack of dogs. To clarify what is already legal on Wisconsin public lands and in fenced enclosures, here is a (graphic) video of a hunter who has wounded a coyote, now lying in the snow: “I shot him three or four times…he might have some fight left in him…his eyes are still open.” He encourages the dogs to kill the coyote, which they do. A young boy is standing next to him. He says, “This is the first kill this child got to see today — good he could see it.”
According to the League of Humane Voters of Wisconsin, hunters here set out 82,000 bait piles with 4,600,000 gallons of bait this year, mostly unhealthy sweets. The bait attracts wolves and coyotes and disrupts all wildlife. They come in conflict with the dogs being “trained.”
Tom Solin, head of law enforcement special investigations for the DNR, now retired, told me that wildlife are regularly killed by dogs.
Twenty-three dogs have been reported killed this year while hounding our wildlife. Citizen donations to the endangered species fund compensate owners who choose to put their dogs at risk — often at $2,500 per dog.
Melanie Weberg, who lives up north, testified at the hearing. “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…who lost their beloved dog to a pack of bear hound dogs, who were afraid to report it for fear of retaliation.”
Armed men and women, on the kill, adrenaline pumping, drinking, with packs of dogs taught to be vicious — and it is they who need protection? Hounds run miles ahead of hunters, often trespassing on private land and threatening livestock, pets and children.
Hounders were bused into the hearing in full camouflage drag, to stand up for their “sport.” They testified that they “worked closely with the DNR” to craft this legislation. They whined about how abusive it is to have nonhunting citizens watching them. Abusive — like our streams and land laden with lead shot that poisons millions of songbirds, water birds and wildlife? Abusive — like controlling our wildlife exclusively for their killing recreation and politically strangling humane citizen participation on the public land we as taxpayers purchase?
“Bear hounding is a family sport. … People think bear hunters are low life, uneducated — I work at a trauma center. … I have killed bears for 28 years,” bragged Michelle Edwards in her testimony. She should know what trauma does to flesh and bone and spirit.
Hunters’ “God-given rights” were confirmed by chairman Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon, who chided me that “God made man to run the world.”
One trapper, who also hounds and kills bears, invited any and all on the committee to stay in his lodge up north — a chummy bribe.
This legislation was initiated in response to Rod Coronado’s Wolf Patrol. Coronado and his volunteers reported a wolf trap set after the wolf hunt ended, resulting in an investigation and the trapper given nothing but a verbal warning. It is this kind of citizen monitoring that Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake, who introduced the bill, and the Wisconsin Bear Hunters’ Association want to quell.
Wisconsin has a very low warden-to-hunter ratio, with poor oversight of these very controversial wildlife abuses. The DNR tip line supposedly encourages citizen input.
Rick Hanestad, of Dunn County, was taught to trap at age 5. He quit hounding, saying it was too brutal for him. He is the trapper whose heart was changed by adopting a coyote who is now a beloved family member. He told me that trappers live-trap as many raccoon babies as they can get in spring for the hounders to release to their dogs to kill, to teach them bloodlust. He estimates that a third of the bear cubs run by dogs in “training” are too little and inexperienced to make it to trees, and are killed on the ground.
Jodi Habush Sinykin, attorney for Midwest Environmental Advocates, testified at the hearing that the Legislature is on shaky legal ground. Photography is considered a form of free speech. She said, “When people try to hide things, there is usually something to hide.” Citizens cannot back up claims of wildlife abuse without pictures. Criminalizing citizen oversight has a chilling effect on reporting abuse. She correctly stated: “Citizens who don’t hunt or trap, the vast majority in the state, spend the majority of the money on outdoor recreation in this state,” and asked, “Why not propose a bill that reflects that trend?”
It is time for a “Respect for All Life Heritage Committee” to protect our citizen majority and wildlife. We purchased these public lands for all citizens of Wisconsin, and we should all be safe on them. That should include protecting native species.
This is their world too.
Citizens can find their Senate and Assembly members’ contact information in the upper right-hand corner of the Wisconsin Legislature home page here to comment on this legislation. Citizens can organize at www.wildlifeethic.org if they wish to work toward fair participation in governing our public lands.