When Wisconsin’s outdoors-folks take their seats Monday, April 9 for the annual fish and wildlife hearings in all 72 counties, they might notice something odd about the 54 questions in the 48-page booklet: Not one item proposes an actual rule change for hunting, fishing or trapping.
These statewide hearings begin at 7 p.m., and are jointly sponsored by the Department of Natural Resources and the 360 elected delegates to the Wisconsin Conservation Congress. Every question on this year’s agenda is for advice only. Items OK’d could return for the 2019 hearings as proposed rules, and couldn’t take effect until 2020.
In other words, April 9’s hearings are more poll than vote. The DNR and WCC could save us the trouble of driving to schools or town halls, and simply let SurveyMonkey tally our answers online. Conservation Congress delegates could then discuss the results at their statewide convention May 11-12 in Green Bay, and start the process of proposing rule changes for April 2019’s hearings.
The meeting in Dane County is at the auditorium at Monona Grove High School, 4400 Monona Drive in Monona.
This is the first year since 2012 that the hearings’ agenda has no rule proposals. The 2014 ballot had one rule proposal, open motor trolling statewide; and the 2016 ballot had two rules, one regarding shooting hours and the other regarding portable blinds and tree stands on state lands. The DNR proposed 47 rule changes in 2013, 69 in 2015 and 38 in 2017.
Those 2014 and 2016 rules proposals were mostly a timing fluke. After the Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker passed Act 21 in 2011, the DNR has seldom proposed rule changes in even-numbered years. In fact, the DNR and Congress nearly canceled the 2012 hearings when Act 21 imposed an 18-step process that requires proposed administrative rules for state agencies to make two orbits through the governor’s office to get enacted.
Therefore, rules going through our spring hearings process now take two to three years to run that bureaucratic gauntlet. With the Conservation Congress thus neutered, legislators have used the state budget process to sneak through changes such as eliminating carcass tags for deer, turkeys and geese; and granting revenue-losing discounts for first-time license buyers.
So be advised: The annual fish and wildlife hearings are merely advisory polls in even-numbered years, and rules hearings in odd-numbered years. And don’t be shocked if these in-person polls and hearings get replaced entirely by online voting in the future. In fact, Congress delegates plan to discuss options for online voting at their statewide convention in May.
Discussing such possibilities is bound to hurt the hearings’ attendance, which has been sluggish the past decade. Although statewide attendance since 1970 averages roughly 7,000, that total has been passed only twice the past 10 years: 7,939 in 2009 and 7,053 in 2014. Meanwhile, attendance at six of the past 10 years was roughly 5,000 or fewer.
Granted, the governor and Legislature didn’t pass Act 21 to weaken the Conservation Congress and make it irrelevant. Unfortunately, they’ve done nothing since to reverse the act’s assault on the Congress and its joint spring hearings with the DNR.
On that happy note, what’s on the April 9 agenda and where will the polling occur? To find your county’s hearing site and view this year’s 54 advisory poll questions, visit http://dnr.wi.gov/About/WCC/springhearing.html, and then click the tab “2018 Spring Hearings locations” and “2018 questionnaire.”
Each hearing begins with a presentation by the local citizen-appointed County Deer Advisory Councils, which will recap their recommendations for this fall’s antlerless deer quotas and special deer seasons. Citizens can comment on the recommendations April 2 to 12. The CDACS will convene April 16 to 19 to review the public feedback and make their final recommendations.
After listening to the CDAC’s recommendations at the hearings, attendees will tackle the 54 advisory questions. Perhaps the most controversial item was written by Greg Kazmierski, a member of the seven-citizen Natural Resources Board, which sets DNR policy. Kazmierski contends crossbow hunters have enjoyed too much buck-hunting success since 2014.
Kazmierski claims crossbow success rates on bucks are “approximately 50 percent” greater than those for gun hunters or compound-bow hunters. He also claims the increased buck harvest before November’s gun season is creating “frustration, concern and a further breakdown of Wisconsin’s deer hunting traditions.” Therefore, he wants hunters to support shortening the crossbow season.
Sheesh. How does such nonsense get printed in an official state document? Yes, crossbows have grown more popular each year, and their success rates on bucks are slightly higher than for firearms and compound bows, but Kazmierski exaggerates the differences by not using actual numbers.
Here are the DNR’s best estimates for 2017 success rates on bucks: firearms, 18 percent; compound and traditional bows, 16 percent; and crossbow, 24 percent.
And here are the numbers of bucks killed by each weapon: firearms, 95,093; compound and traditional bows, 19,645; and crossbow, 16,096.
If Kazmierski yearns for Wisconsin’s “deer hunting traditions,” why not return to the 1960s and early 1970s, before compound bows and portable treestands arrived? Archers registered only 2 percent to 6 percent of the state’s annual buck kill back then.
But by 2009 – five years before crossbows were legalized -- bowhunters claimed 31 percent of the state’s annual buck kill. And since the crossbow’s inclusion in archery season in 2014, the combined bow-kill has been 33 to 34 percent of the statewide buck kill – an increase of 2 to 3 percentage points.
Folks, we have bigger worries than the tempests Kazmierski fabricates.
Other items on the questionnaire ask if Wisconsin should …
-- Establish a statewide continuous open season for bass fishing, but allow harvest only during the current traditional season.
-- Reduce the walleye bag limit from five to three on the Lake Winnebago system.
-- Support a $5 annual fee for using state fishery, wildlife, natural areas and leased public hunting grounds.
-- Register all nonmotorized watercraft.
-- Allow pneumatic rifles and bows for hunting large game.
-- Open the inland trout regular harvest season statewide on the first Saturday in April.
-- Legalize florescent yellow during any firearms deer season.
County Hearing Sites (partial list):
Adams: Adams County Courthouse, County Board Room, 400 Main Street, Friendship, WI 53934
Barron: Barron County Government Center, 330 East LaSalle Avenue, Barron, WI 54812
Brown: Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, Room SC130, 2740 West Mason Street, Green Bay, WI 54307
Calumet: Calumet County Courthouse, 206 Court Street, Chilton, WI 53014
Columbia: Wayne Bartels Middle School, 2505 New Pinery Road, Portage, WI 53901
Dane: Monona Grove High School, Auditorium, 4400 Monona Drive, Monona, WI 53716
Dodge: Horicon Marsh Education and Visitor Center, Auditorium, N7725 State Highway 28, Horicon, WI 53032
Door: Sturgeon Bay High School, Commons, 1230 Michigan Street, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235
Florence: Florence Natural Resources Center, 5631 Forestry Drive, Florence, WI 54121
Fond du Lac: Theisen Middle School, 525 E Pioneer Road, Fond du Lac, WI 54935
Forest: Crandon High School, Auditorium, 9750 U.S. Hwy 8, Crandon, WI 54520
Green: Monroe Middle School, Enter via North-side Door, 1510 13th Street, Monroe, WI 53566
Green Lake: Green Lake Elementary School (Mill St. Entrance), 612 Mill Street, Green Lake, WI 54941
Iowa: Dodgeville High School, Gymnasium, 912 West Chapel Street, Dodgeville, WI 53533
Jefferson: Jefferson High School, Cafeteria, 700 West Milwaukee Street, Jefferson, WI 53549
Juneau: Olson Middle School, Auditorium, 508 Grayside Avenue, Mauston, WI 53948
Kewaunee: Kewaunee High School, 911 3rd Street, Kewaunee, WI 54216
Lincoln: Merrill High School, Auditorium, 1201 N Sales Street, Merrill, WI 54452
Manitowoc: UW Manitowoc, Lakeside Hall L143 Theater, 705 Viebahn Street, Manitowoc, WI 54220
Marathon: DC Everest Middle School, Auditorium, 9302 Schofield Avenue, Weston, WI 54476
Marinette: Wausaukee High School, N11941 Highway 141, Wausaukee, WI 54177
Marquette: Montello High School, Community Room, 222 Forest Lane, Montello, WI 53949
Menominee: Menominee County Courthouse, W3269 Courthouse Lane, Keshena, WI 54135
Oconto: Suring High School, Cafeteria, 411 E Algoma Street, Suring, WI 54174
Outagamie: Appleton North High School, North Auditorium, 5000 North Ballard Road, Appleton, WI 54913
Portage: Ben Franklin Junior High, Auditorium Rm. 1208, 2000 Polk Street, Stevens Point, WI 54481
Richland: Richland County Courthouse, Courtroom, 181 W Seminary Street, Richland Center, WI 53581
Rusk: Ladysmith High School, Auditorium, 1700 Edgewood Avenue East, Ladysmith, WI 54848
Sauk: UW Baraboo - Sauk County, Giese Lecture Hall A4, 1006 Connie Road, Baraboo, WI 53913
Sawyer: Winter High School, Auditorium, 6585 W. Grove Street, Winter, WI 54896
Shawano: Shawano Middle School, Room LGI, 1050 S Union Street, Shawano, WI 54166
Sheboygan: Plymouth High School, Auditorium, 125 Highland Avenue, Plymouth, WI 53073
Taylor: Medford High School, Red and White Theater, 1015 West Broadway Avenue, Medford, WI 54451
Washburn: Spooner High School, 801 County Highway A, Spooner, WI 54801
Waupaca: Waupaca High School, Auditorium, E2325 King Road, Waupaca, WI 54981
Waushara: Waushara County Courthouse, Board Room 265 (Door H), 209 S Saint Marie Street, Wautoma, WI 54982
Winnebago: Webster Stanley Middle School, Auditorium, 915 Hazel Street, Oshkosh, WI 54901
Wood: Pittsville School District, Auditorium, 5459 Elementary Avenue, Pittsville, WI 54466