The state Natural Resources Board this week issued an unusually swift rebuke to a Department of Natural Resources proposal allowing people to keep wild deer.
The idea was discussed at the board’s meeting Wednesday in Pembine even though DNR officials left the proposal off the board’s public agenda. The board drafted and approved a resolution opposing legislation that would be needed to allow private deer ownership.
The DNR drafted the proposal after department employees euthanized Giggles, a deer that ended up at a Kenosha animal shelter. Gov. Scott Walker directed the agency to come up with a policy that would prevent such killings, which provoked strong public outrage.
Board members and environmental advocates say the proposal — one of four options unveiled last month by the DNR — would upend decades of environmental and wildlife management policy.
“Once you go down this road of letting people keep captive wildlife, bar the door,” board chairman Preston Cole said. “You’ll have all this captive wildlife all over the place.”
DNR spokesman Bill Cosh said the department “won’t advocate for any legislation,” so it’s up to the Legislature whether the proposal moves forward.
“The proposal was not an ideal solution, but it would have offered an alternative where no alternative currently exists,” Cosh said. “If no alternatives are offered, and we have another individual that is unwilling to turn over an illegally held deer, the department will be left with no other alternative than to follow current state law, which is to seize the animal. We’ve been down that road before; the public did not support that alternative.”
Spokespeople for Republican leadership and the chairmen of the Senate and Assembly natural resources committees said they weren’t prepared to discuss the issue Thursday.
The other three proposals, which don’t require legislative action, would limit euthanasia to sick or dangerous animals, allow licensed rehabilitation of sick or injured animals, and allow DNR wardens to return illegally captured deer from chronic wasting zones to those areas. Giggles was put down because the deer came from an area marked for the debilitating deer disease.
The board’s decision to pass an impromptu resolution at the meeting was a “highly, highly unusual” move, according to George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and a former DNR secretary.
The resolution emphasized that North American wildlife are considered a non-commercial public resource, which Meyer said is a fundamental tenet of modern conservation.
“What surprised me is the board didn’t waste any time to make that clear,” Meyer said. “It was done spontaneously, contrary to a proposal that DNR had advanced without consultation of the board. That was dramatic.”
Meyer said the department typically runs substantive policy changes by the board, including legislative proposals. Cole said the department isn’t required to present legislation to the board, but it should do so on substantive policy changes.
After discussion of three administrative rule changes that were on the agenda, DNR staff sought the board’s opinion on a final draft of proposed rules for keeping deer.
The draft rules included a $175 penalty for illegally taking deer from the wild plus a $150 annual registration fee. They also required fencing, veterinary care and disease screening, while prohibiting breeding and sales.