Controversial billboard addresses wolf depredation compensation

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- A new billboard on a heavily traveled Madison road takes up a contentious issue: wolves that kill hunting dogs or pets, and the compensation that goes along with it.

The billboard sits near the corner of East Washington Avenue and Stoughton Road, headed northeast toward I-90. It reads, “Wisconsin pays hunters who let wolves kill their dogs.”

NBC15 News spoke to those for and against the billboard’s message, to hear from both sides.

“People shouldn't let their dogs run in areas where there's wolves. They shouldn't get rewarded for it if one of their dogs is killed or injured,” says Rick Bogle a board of directors member with Alliance for Animals.

Alliance for animals, a non-profit advocating for animal rights, funded the billboard. Members are working to spread the word about wolf depredation in Wisconsin.

“We think that probably very few people in Wisconsin actually know that Wisconsin is the only state in the country that reimburses people whose hunting dogs get killed,” Bogle tells NBC15 News.

Scott Walter, large carnivore specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, says that message is, “putting a bit of a twist on it.”

Wisconsin is one of several states that compensates for the death of dogs, both hunting and pets, and livestock at the helm of wolves. Illinois and Arizona are two states that also have compensation plans.

“What we do is apply the law, which again requires that these compensation payments are made,” Walter says.

Jonathan Braun, state director of Sportsmen’s Alliance, says he first saw the billboard last week.

“Initially when I read it, I thought I read it wrong,” he says. “Yes, it is true that hunters do get reimbursed, but they're not sending their dogs out there to be killed."

Braun has been hunting alongside dogs for years. He current pets, Jax the Labrador and Abel the Beagle, are both trained hunting dogs.

“They're part of the family, they're part of the hunting group. They’re part of our heritage and what we do when we're going out there,” he says.

While Braun says he loves his pets, animal advocates argue current practices aren’t how dogs should be treated.

“It just seems like people who do really love their dogs would never let them run loose in areas where there's wolves,” Bogle says.”If you know there’s something dangerous outside, you don’t let your children step out into the yard. So yeah, they’re letting those things happen to their dogs, and in fact they’re carrying their dogs to those areas where they know that there’s wolves.”

Specialists with the DNR disagree.

“Generally hunters and pet owners, they utilize that information when they consider taking their dogs out in the woods,” Walter says.

He says the DNR keeps track of all wolf attacks and areas where wolves have been known to be.

“We go to great pains to try to minimize the risk of these dogs, and certainly the dog owners, like any pet owner, they don't want a conflict between their animal and a wolf,” Walter says.

A map of the caution areas can be found on the DNR’s website. According to that page, there have been 18 reports of wolf depredation so far in 2019. Reports have come in for four hunting dogs, three pets and 11 livestock.

The DNR says, per state statute, it’s required to reimburse owners $2,500 if your animal is killed by wolves.