Damage to multiple hunting tree stands in western Wisconsin is going beyond simple vandalism, said Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald.
At least one tree stand has been cut, in a way that could cause it to break away or collapse as a hunter climbs into the stand, he said.
“I want to raise awareness this is something going on, and people need to be aware,” Fitzgerald said Friday.
The Barron County sheriff’s office received a report of a damaged tree stand in the Prairie Farm area. However, there have been multiple reports of damaged stands in a nearby area in Dunn County, including reports of damaged trail cameras. Some tree stands have been tipped over.
“I’m concerned with the sheer number of cases we’re seeing,” Fitzgerald said. “They are spray-painting vulgar language about hunters; they are targeting hunters.”
The spray-painting on structures has the letters “ALF,” standing for the Animal Liberation Front.
“The Animal Liberation Front is an international leaderless resistance that engages in the direct action in the pursuit of animal rights,” Fitzgerald wrote in a press release.
While Barron County has just the one reported incident so far, Fitzgerald is bracing for more reports.
“I think we’ll see more cases when people get out to their tree stands this weekend,” he said.
Fitzgerald said one of his goals is to avoid any confrontations between hunters and the vandals, and urges hunters to not approach anyone who is trespassing on private property. He urges people who see anything unusual to contact law enforcement immediately.
Jake Bolks, a Department of Natural Resources conservation warden, said the reports of the vandalism to tree stands, making them potentially unsafe for use, is concerning, but hunters should check their equipment every year before using it.
“A lot of people leave (tree stands) up year-round, and the elements can have an effect on their stands,” Bolks said. “You want to check the pins and screws on your stands and make sure they are safe.”
Bolks said his best advice is for hunters to stop by their stands before their hunting season begins.
“Any hunter going out now, they should go and check their stands early, whether they’ve been tampered with or not,” Bolks said. “That way, they are safe when they go out hunting.”
Bolks added that hunters should make sure people know when and where they will be hunting, and when they are expected to return.
The Dunn County sheriff’s office released a statement in mid-September about damaged stands, stating vandalism to one in the town of Sherman, with the ALF letters written on the side. In mid-October, more damage was reported in the town of Dunn.
“The Dunn County sheriff’s office continues to investigate these cases and urges the public to provide any information on suspicious activity directly to the sheriff’s office or anonymously through the Dunn County Crime Stoppers Program at dunncocrimestoppers.com,” said Chief Deputy Marshall Multhauf.
Multhauf also requested that hunters avoid conflict with strangers and “that no one take matters into their own hands.”