There’s a push to look again at expanding hunting in state parks and some area outdoor enthusiasts are raising their voices against it.
In December, the state Natural Resources Board voted against a wide-open, seven-plus-month hunting and trapping season in most state parks and scaled it back to two one-month periods, with the exception of some additional late-season archery deer hunting.
But the leaders of the Conservation Congress have now included a question about park hunting in their annual survey that will be given to attendees at annual statewide hearings in all 72 Wisconsin counties Monday.
Question No. 70 reads: “Would you support expanding the hunting opportunities in state parks from the plan approved by the Natural Resources Board to the plan proposed by the DNR?”
That item has caught the attention of many hikers, campers and cross country skiers in the Madison area, who are urging a big turnout for the Dane County meeting scheduled for Monday at 7 p.m. at the Performing Arts Center in Sun Prairie High School, 888 Grove St.
“As a long-time park user, I am very concerned,” says Karen Matteoni of Madison. “As children we could always hike or ski without fear in our state parks. I’d hate to see that change.”
While the Conservation Congress is typically dominated by hunting and fishing interests, silent sports advocates Jason Dorgan and Judy Archibald have their names on the ballot for election to represent Dane County. Each county has five delegates who serve two-year terms.
Dorgan says he got interested in conservation issues after the Legislature passed Act 168 in 2011. Dubbed the “Sporting Heritage Act,” the law opened all state park and forest lands to hunting, fishing and trapping.
“Although I’m not excited about Act 168, it is law and its implementation could have been much worse,” says Dorgan, an avid distance runner who made news in 2007 by completing the entire 1,000- mile Ice Age Trail across Wisconsin in 25 days. That’s over 40 miles a day.
After Act 168 was signed, the Department of Natural Resources drafted a plan to open all but two state parks to hunting and trapping for the various seasons.
But in a reversal, the Natural Resources Board, which oversees DNR policy, went against those recommendations and voted 7-0 to close most state park land to hunting and trapping — although it did leave some areas open for short periods. The board action followed a public comment period in which more than 95 percent of respondents were opposed to hunting in state parks.
Despite the public opposition, Conservation Congress Chairman Rob Bohmann maintains that allowing hunting in state parks is nothing new. He says for years there has been some hunting in a number of Wisconsin state park areas without significant impact on non-hunting users.
“The department has successfully managed public areas for multiple uses, often with non-consumptive users not even realizing hunting is occurring,” says Bohmann.
Hunting interests could get a boost from a reconfigured Natural Resources Board. With two appointments scheduled to expire in May, Gov. Scott Walker, who has made a point of acting on hunters' wishes, will soon have control of five of the seven seats.
On Friday, Walker appointed north woods forester Gary Zimmer to the board. Previous Walker appointments include Terry Hilgenberg, a real estate agent from Shawano; Gregory Kazmierski, owner of Buck Rub Outfitters in Pewaukee; and William Bruins, owner of Homeland Dairy in Waupun.
The seat of current board chairman and former Gov. Jim Doyle appointee Preston Cole, city of Milwaukee public works director, is due to expire in May, but there has been no word on whether he will be retained.
The seats of two other members — Christine Thomas, professor of resource management at UW-Stevens Point and Jane Wiley, a conservation activist from Wausau — expire in May 2015.