Wisconsin hunters testified before two legislative committees today about their fears of animal rights activists harming them or their dogs.
The testimony came in support of a Republican-backed bill designed to outlaw the Wolf Patrol, a group of animal rights activists who followed and filmed wolf hunters in Wisconsin and Montana in 2014 looking for illegal activity.
Although the federal government placed Great Lakes wolves back on the endangered species list in December, ending Wisconsin’s wolf hunts for the moment, bear hunters now fear the Wolf Patrol will target them for harassment.
The Senate and Assembly’s sporting heritage committees held separate hearings on the measure. Dozens of people showed up to speak, many dressed in camouflage and Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association sweatshirts.
“I don’t want someone waiting at the end of my cabin driveway waiting to follow me around,” Robyn Prince, a Clear Lake bear hunter, told the Senate committee. “This is not OK. They’re taking it above and beyond.”
The bill’s primary Assembly sponsor, Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake, said he’s heard horrible stories about activists making noise while standing in front of bait piles placed by hunters to lure unsuspecting animals within close reach to be killed. He complained that activists have said mean things about hunters online, but he couldn’t cite instances in which activists were convicted of committing violent acts against hunters.
Wisconsin law already prohibits interfering with a hunting, fishing or trapping-associated activity. The bill would add scouting, dog training and baiting and feeding as hunting activities. It also would expand the definition of interference to include engaging in a number of activities more than twice with intent to impede or interfere with a hunter, including remaining in a hunter’s visual proximity, photographing a hunter, using a drone to photograph a hunter and confronting a hunter.
A first offense would be punishable by a $500 fine. A second offense within five years would be punishable by up $1,000 in fines and 90 days in jail. Subsequent offenses would be punishable by up to $10,000 in fines and nine months in jail.
Opponents argued that the state’s existing stalking laws should protect hunters. They insisted that prohibiting people from observing and taking pictures of hunters on public land would be unconstitutional and could have a chilling effect on the Department of Natural Resources’ tip hotline, which citizens use to report illegal hunting.
Patricia Randolph of Wisconsin Wildlife Ethic-Vote Our Wildlife, which works to educate lawmakers about wildlife abuse, told the Assembly committee that the bill creates a double standard. People can’t photograph hunters but hunters can photograph and bask in the glory of their kills with impunity, she said.
“This is the kind of hell this legislation protects,” Randolph said. “You want us to just stand by idly and just watch you guys kill everything? I don’t think so.”
Wolf Patrol issued a statement Wednesday evening saying no one has presented any evidence the organization has impeded or interfered with hunting or trapping. Hunters and lawmakers are trying to foster fear of the group to justify legislation that criminalizes monitoring activities on public lands, the organization said.
The hearings came less than a week after Jarchow and Moulton introduced the proposal, but its prospects look unclear. Myranda Tanck, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said Fitzgerald will review the measure but it won’t come to the floor in that chamber before the fall floor session ends next week.
Rep. Al Ott, R-Forest Junction, chairman of the Assembly sporting heritage committee, said the panel may vote on the measure next month after the fall floor session ends. A spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, had no immediate comment.
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