Forest planning for hunting

“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.”

This brings to mind a similar situation in Louisiana. In 2012 the Forest Service amended the Kisatchie National Forest plan to prohibit the “age-old tradition” in Louisiana of hunting deer with dogs because of user conflicts.  In Louisiana Sportsmen Alliance v. Vilsack, a federal district court upheld the forest plan amendment. It stated: “We are conscious of the fact that KNF is a National Forest, owned by the United States and to be utilized in the best interests of all. The law empowers the agency to make precisely the kinds of decisions made here.”  (The Fifth Circuit then held that plaintiffs had not established standing to sue and dismissed the case.)  If the agency has the authority to regulate recreation that impacts species listed under ESA, then its failure to do so in Wisconsin might violate the law.  (However, under the 2012 Planning Rule, forest plans do not directly regulate users by themselves, and a separate closure order would be required.)


  1. Actually not sure in WI or LA that USFS has the legal authority to curtail or modify what the state wildlife agency deems a legal (and necessary) manner of harvest. Species such as black bear are not Federal trust species and are managed for the people by the individual states. Camp in the summer. Fall should be for the sportsmen that have paid for the wildlife resource and its restoration. Sans dog-hunting on the GWJeff, Monongahela, Cherokee, Pisgah, and Nantahala, we’d be up to our eyeballs in bears and I doubt anybody could camp and hike. Even with increasingly liberal training and take seasons, bear populations have grown 10-fold over the past 3 decades in the Southeast. What’s next? Objection to using a pointer to bird hunt?

    • “Camp in the summer. Fall should be for the sportsmen that have paid for the wildlife resource and its restoration.”

      What if some families and recreation-type folks like hikers, bird watchers and general nature lovers actually enjoy camping in the National Forests of Wisconsin during the fall, when it’s not so hot and buggy? Don’t these federal public lands also belong equally to them?

  2. They do – but once the camel’s nose is under the tent. What is next? And I doubt Robert Williams can provide a single empirical data point on dog-hunting and deleterious impacts to the non-target wildlife populations. Clearly being treed and shot is deleterious for that individual bear, but wildlife management is about populations and ecosystem health first and foremost.

    • If ecosystem health is a foremost priority, the case for regularly hunting any apex predator is pretty flimsy at best. Problem animals, fine (though it needs to come with some evaluation of whether human behaviors are causing or exacerbating conflict, too, if it’s going to be effective.) I’m not aware of any research suggesting that killing bears promotes resilience, biodiversity or any other quality associated with healthy ecosystems.

  3. Just tossing in my $.02 here: the idea that wildlife should be managed for everyone is a principle of our democracy. The state wildlife agencies almost univerally represent one interest group, especially when it comes to predators and recreationally-killed species; non-consumptive users are not represented in their personnel, and sometimes are actively excluded. I think there’s a valid case to be made that when a state is failing to represent the full public, a larger role for federal agencies is legitimate (and more democratic).

    On the issue of who pays for wildlife, it’s true that guns & ammo taxes are a big source of funding, but it seems like states have also been reluctant to embrace other potential sources of revenue, such as taxes on wildlife-watching equipment and services. Which is no small thing: the USFWS just released its latest survey of fishing, hunting and wildlife-associated recreation, and wildlife-watching expenditures were greater than fishing and hunting expenditures combined. (There were also more wildlife watchers than fishers and hunters combined, but I don’t know how whether that accounted for overlap among people who both watch and fish or hunt.)

    With bears, I’ve studies suggesting that hunting does not reduce conflict, and potentially increases it by teaching bears to regard humans as threats, and also studies suggesting the opposite. Not in a position to adjudicate between these claims now, but I think it’s fair to say that it’s very possible for bears — who as apex predators are not going to proliferate wildly in the absence of hunting — and people to coexist without conflict. Bear baiting also strikes me as a great way to teach bears to seek out human food, with all the problems that entails, though I’ve no idea if research backs that up.

    I wouldn’t compare using dogs to hunt bear with using dogs to hunt birds; lots of bear dogs are badly injured or killed. Just on those grounds alone, I think it’s immoral.

  4. That language was a bit careless; edit to say, “state wildlife agencies tend to represent one interest group disproportionately…” and “non-consumptive users are not often represented in their personnel and committees.”

  5. PR-funds (ammo excise tax), DJ-funds (excise on fishing equipment) and license sales are 95%+ of all operating revenue for state wildlife agencies except I think Missouri. But state wildlife agencies have to bear the burden of regulating the wildlife watchers, wildlife handling/keeping permitting, problem wildlife. wildlife habitat management on state lands (and it many cases on national forest land where there are the cooperative WMA agreement in place)….. except for Pennsylvania that can put 250,000 people out in the woods on bear-gun day, dog-hunting is the only effective way to keep bear numbers in check. In most eastern states, bear populations have expanded from residual low-density populations primarily on national forest and parks to statewide in the past two decades. Increases of 10-fold in some states have occurred. Apparently we are nowhere near the carrying capacity for bears in places like New Jersey or North Carolina, but we are way above the cultural carrying capacity and the biological capacity with regard to other species. Fawn mortality from bears in the central and northern Appalachians often approaches 70-80%. While fewer deer are a good thing by and large, suddenly we are waking up to some pretty significant deer-free zones which in turn has cascading effects in terms of too little herbivory to shape forest condition.

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