Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Caught in the middle--the Great Lakes Wolf Patrol

Caught in the middle
Activists here to dialog, not destroy
Wolves of Douglas County blogger Rachel Tilseth and Rod Coronado walk down a dirt road on public land looking for wolf signs and traps.
Ryan Matthews photograph
Wolves of Douglas County blogger Rachel Tilseth and Rod Coronado walk down a dirt road on public land looking for wolf signs and traps.
Ryan Matthews photograph
Rod Coronado surveys an old logging road on public land for wolf signs and traps.Ryan Matthews photograph
Rod Coronado surveys an old logging road on public land for wolf signs and traps.
Ryan Matthews photograph
People and Predators

Ryan Matthews
Outdoors Reporter

Great Lakes Wolf Patrol made national news last week when it released a statement saying activists would be shadowing wolf hunters and trappers in Wisconsin – an activity which the group had previously pursued in Montana. The response by some was incendiary. 

People on both sides of the wolf debate took to social media to launch vicious verbal attacks. Four letter words were used. Death threats were made. Ted Nugent called hunters to disregard Department of Natural Resources (DNR) quotas and “Kill as many as you can.”

The Great Lakes Wolf Patrol has been portrayed by some in the media as extremist and dangerous, out to sabotage traps and interfere with hunters. Despite their disagreement with the wolf season, however, the group remains committed to operate legally. 

“I had to argue to some of my crew that if we see in a wolf in a trap, we’re not going to let it go,” Great Lakes Wolf Patrol leader and activist Rod Coronado said. “Some people weren’t comfortable being a part of this if we weren’t going to release a wolf if we found it in a trap. And I had to say, ‘Sorry, that’s not open for negotiation.’”

“We want to be friendly with the DNR and friendly with hunters and open to dialog from all sides,” patroller Matthew Almonte said. That friendliness is something the group has already encountered in talking with trappers and hunters met during its patrols.

Coronado described one instance during which two members of the group talked amiably with a trapper they met on public land. “The two people who ran into this trapper were vegans and they said, ‘He was actually really nice,’ and I said ‘Yeah, he probably was nice, and we’ll treat him with respect.’”

Mutual respect is an integral part of healthy discourse, Coronado argues, “That’s when the magic happens and things change. When you walk away and say, ‘Wow, that guy was actually pretty cool.’”
Indeed, despite the often inflamed rhetoric being used by some online, Coronado maintains that cooler heads will prevail. “If we run into wolf hunters and our cover is blown, we tell them, ‘Yes, we are the wolf people but we aren’t here to mess with your traps or damage your equipment,’” Coronado said.

Almonte said the group’s greatest weapon is not a war of words waged on social media platforms or in the field, “Our greatest asset is imagery, is documentation. What’s going to sway the public is an image of a wolf in a trap.”

One of the things which concerns the group is a perceived bias in the Wisconsin DNR Wolf Advisory Committee’s recommendations on how to manage the wolf population.

“A lot of the noise that’s being heard right now is from the wolf-hating lobby,” Great Lakes Wolf Patrol Organizer Julie Henry said. “They all benefit from the same practices that saw all the wolves eradicated in the first place. These groups are often in direct conflict with the scientists and the researchers who have been studying wolves for decades,” Henry said.

“When you have hunters and trappers who stand to benefit from culling wild animals who have such a say in whether or not there’s going to be a recreational wolf hunt, that’s a problem for me,” Almonte said.

Both Matthew Almonte and Julie Henry agreed that there have been unhelpful statements made by both sides.

“Wolf hunters and trappers and the people who are largely behind this hunt, they’re not all rabid, foaming at the mouth wanting to ‘smoke a pack a day’ kinds of people. There are ordinary people at play here,” Almonte said.

What makes wolves different?

It should come as no surprise that in the age of instant news, sometimes messages become distorted and sensationalized. National coverage of the controversial wolf hunting and trapping season in Wisconsin has been no different and has largely inhibited any open dialog between groups with differing opinions.

That’s something Coronado is trying to directly combat. “I’m not calling this an animal rights movement. It’s not about stopping all hunting. It’s not even about stopping all trapping. I might personally be opposed to trapping, but I hunt, and we need allies in the sportsman’s community,” Coronado said. 

“We don’t want to stop you from filling your freezer full of venison and feeding your families,” Coronado added.

Reflecting on his past actions as an animal rights activist, Coronado said, “I don’t want to be a vegan anymore. I don’t want to be in just this 1 percent of people arguing for what I believe is an unreasonable world. I want to be with other people who are passionate about wildlife, and a lot of those people are hunters.”

Hardly the words of an extremist. But if the group is not against all hunting and trapping, what are they in Wisconsin to protest? 

“We are against hunting this particular animal for this particular reason in this particular way,” Almonte said.

Almonte said that it is the role that wolves play in healthy ecosystems that makes this issue so important. 

“Their absence has a detrimental effect on our entire ecosystem,” Almonte said. “Hunting apex predators is dangerous to the health of rivers, the heath of the animals they prey upon, it’s dangerous to everybody. 

Ongoing strategy

As of Sunday, Oct. 19, Great Lakes Wolf Patrol was operating on public land in Douglas County. 
The Wolf Management Zone Douglas County resides in was closed at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 19. The group did not anticipate the zone quota being filled so quickly. 

Currently, the Patrol plans to stay in Douglas County and continue to monitor a trap they say has gone unchecked for multiple days, one which a trapper said was set for wolves. 

If a wolf is caught in the trap, Great Lakes Wolf Patrol maintains that it would be considered illegal poaching since it is the responsibility of the trapper to monitor zone closures and remove traps accordingly. 

The Patrol has plans to return to Montana to monitor the wolf trapping season beginning Dec. 15 and has vowed to return to Wisconsin if the season remains open until December, when the DNR allows the use of hounds to hunt wolves.