Wisconsin Hunter-Protection Law Challenged by Anti-Hunting Group

Statute protecting hunters from harassment at center of lawsuit by filmmaker

Friday, July 28, 2017

By Lisa Lakey

A Wisconsin law that protects hunters from harassment on public lands is at the center of a lawsuit filed by a filmmaker and two others. The complaint calls the statute unconstitutional and states it has a “chilling effect” on free speech.

Targeted by the lawsuit filed July 17 are Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the state’s Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp and Chief Warden Todd Schaller. Brad Schimel, Wisconsin attorney general, and 12 district attorneys are also named as defendants in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed by Joseph Brown, a Marquette University assistant professor and documentarian; Stephanie Losse, an animal rights activist; and Louis Weisberg, editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Gazette. The claim revolves around the actions of the Wolf Patrol, a “conservation movement” started in 2013 to support the recovery of the gray wolf in the Great Lakes area.

The plaintiffs claim Wisconsin Statute 29.083 (passed in 1990 and amended in 2016) infringes on their First and 14th Amendment rights.

Brown, creator of the short film Operation Wolf Patrol: Wildlife Policy in Wisconsin, claims he cannot continue his work documenting hunters using public land because of his fear of civil and criminal liability due to the nature of the law. According to the complaint, Brown and Losse cite instances of being stopped by both angry hunters and DNR wildlife officers.

Weisberg, who has routinely supported and relied upon the work of Wolf Patrol, cites in the complaint that he cannot send journalists in the field to collect information because of fear of prosecution.

Statute 29.083 protects against interference with lawful hunting, fishing and trapping. This includes maintaining a visual or physical proximity to the person (under “prohibitions” 7.a), approaching or confronting the person (7.b) or photographing, videotaping or audiotaping the activities of the person (7.c). The use of drones in monitoring a hunter’s movement on private land is also banned.

The clash between hunters and Wolf Patrol is nothing new. Several hunters have claimed harassment from the group for years. Rep. Adam Jarchow (R-Balsam Lake) called for further protection of hunters in 2015, when he claimed the group shifted its focus to bear hunters after the gray wolf was put back on the endangered species list in 2014.

“Some of these folks will wait outside the homes of hunters where their families live, and wait for them to leave so they can follow them around to their hunting sites,” Jarchow said at a public meeting of the Assembly of Natural Resources and Sporting Heritage Committee. “They’ll then follow hunters though the woods with video cameras documenting legal acts of hunting. This is much like stalking.”

According to the complaint, the plaintiffs are seeking “declaratory and injunctive relief to preserve their rights to record and disseminate information about hunting in Wisconsin and to engage in conduct necessary to be able to meaningfully express their anti-hunting beliefs.”