Attendance at Wisconsin’s statewide fish and wildlife hearings on Monday night jumped 36 percent from a year ago to 6,893, partly because of controversial deer-related questions on crossbows, group-hunting and chronic wasting disease.
That’s the fourth highest attendance the past 15 years for the hearings, a joint effort of the Department of Natural Resources and the Wisconsin Conservation Congress. This year’s attendance is also in the upper one-third of the past 49 annual hearings, dating to 1970.
The Conservation Congress is legislatively sanctioned to advise the seven-citizen Natural Resources Board, which sets DNR policy. The Congress consists of 360 elected delegates, five from each of the state’s 72 counties.
All questions on the hearings’ 54-item agenda were for advice only. The Congress will review the votes May 11-12 at its statewide convention in Green Bay. Items approved there can be submitted as formal regulation proposals for the April 2019 hearings.
The two proposals generating the most votes Monday came from the Natural Resources Board. Voters soundly rejected a suggestion to eliminate group-hunting during the firearms deer season by a 64-36 percentage, 3,708 to 2,124. Group-hunting allows one hunter to shoot a deer for a hunting partner if they’re in close contact. The practice isn’t legal during archery season.
Voters also rejected a suggestion to shorten the crossbow deer season by a 54-46 percentage, 3,164 to 2,660.
Those two votes fared even worse on a county basis, with 64 of 72 counties rejecting the group-hunting question, and 54 counties rejecting the crossbow question.
The crossbow proposal would have lost in a landslide if not for its 4-1 advantage in the five counties drawing the most attendees: Dane, 484; Waukesha, 301; Milwaukee, 296; Outagamie, 208; and Washington, 190.
Of those, only Outagamie County rejected a shorter crossbow season, voting it down by a 59-41 percentage (105-74). Dane County passed it on a 60-40 percentage (246-167); as did Waukesha, 55-45 (93-76); Milwaukee, 57-43 (142-109); and Washington, 52-48 (87-80).
Conservation Congress chairman Larry Bonde of Kiel said crossbow hunters were motivated to attend the hearings.
“On a statewide basis, compound-bow users didn’t show up and crossbow users clearly did,” Bonde said. “This is another example of social issues generating more emotions than biological issues. Group-hunting and crossbows are social issues. Both sides get so emphatic and upset. It’s all about winners and losers.”
Another attention-getting question asked if hunters should be barred from transporting harvested deer from CWD-affected counties to unaffected counties. Attendees OK’d the ban 54-46 on a 3,102 to 2,617 vote, but many questioned why privately run deer farms in CWD-affected counties can move live deer to facilities anywhere in the state.
“There’s a lot of frustration among sportsmen on CWD,” Bonde said. “They see captive cervids (deer) testing positive at game farms around the state, and it’s causing a lot of issues and a lot of expenses for sportsmen and the DNR. It’s a political issue, and sportsmen feel they have no say in the matter.”
Bonde said at least two resolutions were submitted in several counties to tighten CWD regulations, including one by former DNR Board chairman David Clausen of Amery. Clausen’s resolution would require double fencing around elk/deer farms in CWD-endemic counties, outlaw moving captive cervids from elk/deer farms in CWD-endemic counties, and immediately kill all elk/deer in facilities where CWD is detected.
“We voted on more floor resolutions around the state this year than any year I recall,” Bonde said. Attendees submit “floor resolutions” at individual country hearings. Resolutions approved by the home county advance for consideration at the Congress’s statewide convention. Results for resolutions submitted Monday night weren’t available at midweek.
Bonde said voters around the Winnebago System in east-central Wisconsin also boosted attendance by voting in big numbers on a proposal to lower the system’s walleye limit from five to three. Of the 10 counties on or near the system, seven had 144 or more attendees Monday night.
The idea passed statewide 65-35 on a 3,366 to 1,816 vote. Voters in Green Lake, Fond du Lac and Manitowoc counties rejected the proposal by a combined 56-44 percentage (174-139). Voters in the system’s seven other counties — Brown, Calumet, Outagamie, Sheboygan, Waupaca, Waushara and Winnebago — approved the lower bag limit by a combined 63-37 percentage (521-300).
Several of those counties also voted on floor proposals seeking to ban underwater cameras during the Winnebago System’s sturgeon-spearing season. The DNR doesn’t consider underwater cameras a biological issue. If these cameras boost the kill, the spearing season would close earlier to protect the population. Bonde said he doesn’t know anyone who speared a sturgeon with help from underwater cameras, but rumors abound of people using them in murky water to detect approaching fish. Bonde said this issue is the Winnebago System’s version of the crossbow debate. “The discussions I’m hearing sound as if we killed someone’s grandmother,” he said.
In other votes, attendees:
- Supported a $5 fee to help manage state-owned public lands, 58-42;
- Rejected registering all nonmotorized watercraft, 69-31;
- Supported opening the inland trout season statewide the first Saturday in April;
- Supported a statewide continuous open season on bass, but harvests would be restricted to the current traditional season, 54-46;
- Supported banning live-fish bait for setlines or bank poles on the Winnebago System, 68-32;
- Supported legislation to reduce the risks of climate change through increased use of renewable resources, 66-34;
- Supported allowing fluorescent yellow clothing during firearms deer seasons, 53.5-46.5;
- Supported increasing the license fee for guides, 62-38.
For complete results and county-specific vote totals, visit http://dnr.wi.gov and search the key words “spring hearings.”