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MADISON, Wis. - A number of environmental groups, including the Endangered Species Coalition, want to keep hunters who use packs of dogs out of public lands in Wisconsin, including the state's national forests. The groups say the hunters and their dogs have made the public lands inhospitable, and they want the federal government to launch an investigation into the practice.
Robert Williams is a Madison resident who frequently camps on public lands in northern Wisconsin. He says the packs of hunting dogs wreak havoc on the native wildlife. "Honestly, I've had friends that try to send me video of what actually happens if the hounds catch these animals, and I honestly can't even watch them," Williams relates. "It's just horrible."
The Wisconsin Bear Hunters' Association says the charges by the environmental groups are overblown, that most hunters try to avoid wolves and that they don't bother other animals in the forest. The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest covers more than 1.5 million acres in northern Wisconsin.
Mary Anderson of Spooner says the hunters frequently violate the law by running their dog packs on the private land she and her husband own. She says bear hunters are allowed to leave piles of bait in the open, which she thinks should be prohibited. Anderson says in recent years, too many rules have been changed to accommodate the hunters and their dogs. "And then they want more," she states. "I mean - that's still not good enough for them. And I don't think you should be able to run your dogs 365 days a year for anything. That's my big thing: Get the dogs out of the woods. Get the bait and the dogs out."
Bear hunting is legal in Wisconsin, and the number of bear hunters is increasing. According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 114,000 people applied for a bear hunting permit last year. A decade ago, applications were around 80,000. Williams says the increased presence of hunters and their dogs is ruining public lands for campers like him. "I guess I find myself doing it less now," he laments. "Maybe I've just got bad luck and I'm going to the places that they like the best now. But it seems like I see these big groups of hunters and dogs a lot more than I used to."