Monday, November 2, 2015

How Wolf Patrol's Rod Coronado is pissing off Wisconsin hunters

Rod Coronado (bottom) says he's ditched his militant activist ways, but the hunters he videotapes are fuming.
Rod Coronado (bottom) says he's ditched his militant activist ways, but the hunters he videotapes are fuming. Courtesy of Wolf Patrol

Rod Coronado spends much of his time cruising northern Wisconsin. His camouflaged truck with a hound box in the bed helps him blend in with the hunters who despise him.

A sportsman himself, Coronado wasn’t roving Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest to bow hunt. Rather, he’s been keeping tabs on other hunters.

The grizzled animal rights activist is the founder of Wolf Patrol, an organization primarily focused on preserving the gray wolf population in the Upper Midwest. Wolf Patrol’s Wisconsin mission, which has invoked the wrath of hunters and lawmakers, is part vigilante, part research. “We want to document and see that people are prosecuted who are violating wildlife laws,” Coronado explains. “We’re not trying to stop all hunting. We are simply trying to ensure that those methods of hunting that negatively impact other wildlife are looked at more closely.”

The 49-year-old leads a four-person crew on what he calls “citizen monitoring” trips. Coronado’s team films hunters and documents baiting and trapping. Bear hunting with hounds and bait has been a particular focus, as he says other animals, including gray wolves, are conditioned to look for bait boxes. In one area he monitored during this year’s bear season, Coronado said seven hounds — trained only to chase — were killed when overmatched by wolves. “The bigger conflict isn’t hunting [vs.] anti-hunting. It’s not trying to stop people from hunting,” the Michigan resident says. “It’s understanding this is all one woven fabric. … Human activities don’t just affect one target species, but there’s other animals that are affected.”

However, Wolf Patrol’s tactics pissed off enough hunters that a Wisconsin lawmaker proposed a bill that would make it illegal to videotape or photograph hunters, or otherwise impede their hunts. At a public hearing last week, Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake, accused the group of harassing hunters, waiting outside their homes to follow them, and making noise to ruin their hunts.

Rod Coronado (right) and Wolf Patrol members outside the Wisconsin State Capitol.
Rod Coronado (right) and Wolf Patrol members outside the Wisconsin State Capitol. Courtesy of Wolf Patrol

Coronado denies the accusations and says his goal isn’t to interfere or be confrontational. He says he maintains a “respectful distance” and doesn't follow hunters into the woods, instead observing from roads.

Still, hunters at the hearing complained of paparazzi-style encroachment and even cyber bullying. Michelle Edwards said Wolf Patrol identified her from a September hunt. The group posted her picture online, triggering a spate of derogatory comments. “What was upsetting was it had been shared, like, 140 times and there was about 40 comments underneath it. Some of them were threatening my life,” Edwards said. “Some of them were saying they were going to hunt me down and hurt me.”

Coronado’s critics assail him as a “radical” — an eco-terrorist with a record. By admission, Coronado was a “cheerleader for illegal activities” in his younger days. In 1995 he was convicted of arson for torching a Michigan State University animal research facility and spent nearly five years behind bars.
But those days are behind him, Coronado insists. He says he’s evolved and now espouses more “sustainable” (read legal) methods. “This isn’t the 1980s anymore for me,” Coronado says. “I’m not chaining myself to anything or slashing anybody’s tires anymore.”

Although Wolf Patrol hasn’t played hunter paparazzi in Minnesota, Coronado has been in contact with a group of St. Paul activists calling themselves Minnehaha Wolf Patrol. To his knowledge, they haven’t done any “citizen monitoring” in yet.

With tighter bear-baiting regulations and a ban on bear hunting with dogs, Minnesota doesn’t have the same issues as Wisconsin, which is why his crew hasn't crossed the St. Croix River, Coronado says. “But don’t think you’re off the hook,” he warns.