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Plan expands no-hunting areas
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Plan expands no-hunting areas

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In response to more than 2,000 overwhelmingly negative comments, the state Natural Resources Board is being asked to shrink the size of allowed hunting and trapping areas within state parks and trails set to take effect Jan. 1.

The latest proposed rules still would greatly expand the current season for all hunted, trapped and fished species within state-owned land from a handful of days or weeks to more than seven months. The Legislature passed the so-called Sporting Heritage Bill by a wide bipartisan margin in November 2011.

The law changes the 80-year-old presumption of Wisconsin state parks and trails from closed to hunting, trapping and fishing to open except for zones within 100 yards of areas such as campgrounds and picnic shelters.

The board also may close other areas "when necessary to protect public safety or to protect a unique animal or plant community."

"Act 168 opened state parks up to hunting and trapping flat-out — that means all hunting and all trapping except as closed by the state board," said Peter Biermeier, recreational planning and development chief for the Wisconsin State Parks.

The Natural Resources Board is scheduled to vote on the proposed rules implementing the law at its meeting starting at 1 p.m. Tuesday. Those wishing to comment on the proposal have until 4 p.m. Monday to register.

The DNR collected written comments and held five meetings around the state between Oct. 29 and Nov. 11.

Of the 2,033 comments, all but 84 were opposed to the agency’s original plan, with many opposed to any hunting in state parks, according to a memo to the board from DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp. The overriding concern was the potential for stray bullets and arrows to hit people hiking, skiing, canoeing or biking in the state’s 54 parks, 41 trails and 53 segments of the Ice Age and North Country trails.

According to a summary compiled by the DNR, comments included: "Is the state willing to bear the liability if someone is shot?" and "Why do the few hunters get this privilege when the majority of park users are put at risk?" and "I do not want to ski, snow shoe and hike my state parks with guns going off ..." and "No amount of safety zone is enough!"

Biermeier said the agency heard the concerns.

"After getting public comments back, we went back and looked at each park and each map to make the necessary changes," he said. "In essence, what we’ve done is expand the no-hunting area at many of the parks."

The original rules proposed a hunting, fishing and trapping season that would run from Oct. 15 until the Thursday before Memorial Day for all parks.

However, the comments prompted the staff to propose the season be cut in parks with significant fall, winter and spring usage, including Council Grounds, Hartman Creek, High Cliff, Lake Wissota, Peninsula, Rib Mountain and Wildcat Mountain state parks and the Elroy-Sparta State Trail.

Hunting also would be limited to archery at five parks: Big Foot Beach, High Cliff, Lake Kegonsa, Peninsula and a portion of Rib Mountain, as well as parts of the Ice Age Trail in Columbia County, under the revision.

In all, public comments prompted the agency to recommend reduced hunting and trapping areas by 2,511 acres from its original proposal in 20 state parks and 14 Ice Age Trail areas. Still, of the 97,706 acres covered by Act 168, about two-thirds would still remain open for hunting. Trapping is also allowed in those same zones.

Some of those responding to the proposed rules said they were opposed to traps as inhumane and dangerous to pets. However, Stepp’s memo said the agency cannot limit the types of traps used since its authority extends only to protecting public safety for humans, not dogs.

Wisconsin would become one of 10 states that allow "extensive" hunting in its state parks, the DNR said. The other 40 have more restrictive hunting regulations.

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