More Than 6,000 Attend Spring Rule Hearings

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More than 6,000 people attended the 2004 Wisconsin Spring Fish and Wildlife Rules Hearings and Conservation Congress county meetings that were held in each county of the state Monday, April 12. In all, participants had 78 statewide or local rule proposals to consider.

The most discussion centered on an advisory question from the state Natural Resources Board to extend the statewide gun deer hunt to 23 days from the current nine days. The season extension proposal was rejected by about a 2 to 1 margin, with a statewide vote of 1,798 in favor and 3,621 opposed to the idea.

“While this proposal as it was presented didn’t gain widespread support, the board and our wildlife staff will continue to look at ways to simplify and streamline season structure and reduce herd numbers,” said DNR Secretary Scott Hassett. “The task of reducing deer populations in many units is still before us. In the foreseeable future there will be Zone T and Earn-a-Buck hunts as long as populations remain high in many units.”

As in past years questions up for discussion and vote by those attending were in two general categories; statewide and local. Questions identified as statewide wildlife rule changes are addressed first. Wildlife rule changes identified as local are then discussed in the counties identified as impacted or in those counties where a member of the public in attendance brings it up for discussion and comments.

The official attendance of 6,017 was up from the approximately 4,800 who attended the hearings last year, but still below the average of about 7,000 over the past 20 years (with the exception of 1999, when more than 30,000 people turned out for the hearings to address a proposed dove hunting season), said Al Phelan, who coordinates the hearings for the state Department of Natural Resources.

The hearings are held annually in every county of the state on the second Monday of April. In addition to voting on proposed rules or changes to rules, delegates to the Wisconsin Conservation Congress are elected. The Conservation Congress was established by the Wisconsin Legislature in 1934 as a citizen body to advise the Natural Resources Board (NRB) on fish and wildlife management issues and policy.

Of the statewide wildlife rule changes proposed by the Department of Natural Resources, a proposal to add the Saturday, Sunday and Monday of Labor Day weekend to the early September Canada goose hunting season received strong support with 4,498 in favor and only 531 opposed . Currently these days have been closed even though they fit within the Federal guidelines for hunting this species.

A proposal to add seven to 13 days to the fall turkey season also received overwhelming support with 4,918 for the idea and 333 opposed, while a proposal to allow using dogs for the fall turkey season was rejected, with 2,858 opposed to the idea and 2,171 in favor.

Under the proposed DNR fisheries rule changes, a proposal to reduce the daily bag limit from 25 to 10 for catfish taken from the Lower Wisconsin River to bring it in line with other general statewide bag limits was approved 2,299 to 581. Two questions on increasing the minimum length limits for muskellunge on a segment of the Menominee River and on the Wisconsin River, including flowages, from the Castle Rock Dam in Adams and Juneau counties upstream through Wood County to the Dubay Dam in Portage County, were also both approved, as were local fisheries questions on establishing nine new fish refuges.

The refuges – proposed for specific waters in Dane, Lincoln, Marathon and Waupaca counties – respond to concerns from DNR conservation wardens about areas where wardens have documented past problems with illegal harvests of fish, particularly during spawning seasons. The wardens are concerned that the vacancies in the warden force mean fewer wardens are available in the field to protect fish during these particularly vulnerable times.

A Wisconsin Conservation Congress advisory questions seeking public support for allowing sale of gun deer hunting licenses during the open firearm season failed by a narrow margin, while a proposal for a $10 dollar fee for production of put and take pheasants at the state game farm to be stocked on public hunting grounds was approved.