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Board Restores DNR Deer Quotas in 4 Wisc. Counties

Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board partially rescinded its earlier decision to slash antlerless deer quotas in 11 northern counties when it met Thursday morning in a special session, voting 6-1 to restore the original recommendations for Bayfield, Burnett, Douglas and Sawyer counties.


The seven-citizen NRB, which sets policy for the Department of Natural Resources, let stand its June 24 quota reductions in Florence, Langlade, Lincoln, Marinette, Oconto, Oneida and Vilas counties. The quotas affect this autumn’s deer seasons, which begin in September and end in January 2021.


The doe/fawn quota recommendations were originally set in May by citizen-based County Deer Advisory Councils, and approved June 15 by DNR administrators. The Board has final say on the quotas, but never before made such largescale changes.


The Board caused an uproar June 24 when voting 5-2 to cut doe/fawn permits by 5,650 on public lands and 500 on private lands across the 11 counties, based largely on the recommendations of vice chair Greg Kazmierski. That surprise move didn’t allow public comments or timely review of Kazmierski’s 16-page report by three of the Board members or DNR Secretary Preston Cole.


Kazmierski shared his report 36 hours before the June 24 meeting with Board chair Fred Prehn, and fellow Board members Bill Bruins and Terry Hilgenberg. He didn’t email it to members Bill Smith and Julie Anderson until the night before the meeting, and never sent it to Board member Marcy West. West didn’t realize Kazmierski was recommending quota reductions for 11 counties until the meeting, when he submitted an amendment detailing the cuts.


Those actions caused three former NRB members — Dave Clausen, John “Duke” Welter and Fred Clark — to criticize the Board in an open letter July 16, suggesting they violated Wisconsin’s open-meeting laws. Clausen also filed a formal complaint July 27 with the Dane County district attorney’s office, alleging the Board improperly noticed its June 24 agenda, and committed a “walking quorum” when four members collaborated on Kazmierski’s report before the meeting.


The Board responded by holding the special meeting July 30, which opened with public testimony from nine citizens, seven of whom criticized the Board’s June 24 actions. Prehn said the Board also received over 20 written comments about the matter.


Welter addressed the Board at the special meeting, saying he understands the Board has final say on deer quotas, and can “improve” them if necessary. He said there was no excuse, however, for sharing information among only four members beforehand. “I thought that was underhanded,” Welter told them.


Paul Dagle, who represents agricultural interests on the Marathon County CDAC, told the Board its quota reductions were “unprecedented” and disrespectful, and that it undermined the CDACs’ mission. “We take this work seriously,” Dagle said. “We review and consider public input and scientific metrics, and provide recommendations. … These were not overzealous recommendations.”


Ralph Fritsch, co-chairman of Oconto County’s CDAC, and a representative of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, urged the Board to rescind its June 24 vote entirely and restore the DNR/CDAC final recommendations.


Fritsch said the Oconto County CDAC voted 4-2 to issue 450 antlerless permits, (150 deer) in the forested area of northern Oconto County. But he noted the two “no” votes wanted to issue 750 antlerless permits (250 deer) for that area.


“Our CDAC hit the sweet spot of public opinion when we lowered our antlerless permits by 40%,” Fritsch said. “But what is truly upsetting is the process (you) used … to overturn the (DNR’s) recommendations. The process was a total blind-siding of 11 CDACs, and sends a strong message of disrespect to CDACs for all the hard work that they do.”


The Board also heard from Al Hofacker, a hunt/conservation club representative on the Marinette County CDAC. In a letter to the Board, Hofacker wrote: “The (Board’s decision to reduce permit numbers did not) receive the amount of study or consideration of the data … compared to what the CDAC took into account prior to making its final quota recommendation. There was very little discussion by NRB members about each of the 11 (Northern) counties and their reasons for making these reductions. … In short, it seemed the reasons were simply that the 2019 buck-kill was down significantly and hunters were complaining about lack of deer.”


Despite such feedback, the Board only considered reinstating the original quota recommendations for the four northwestern counties that Smith suggested: Bayfield, Burnett, Douglas and Sawyer. The Board approved the reductions, with only Kazmierski dissenting. No Board member suggested rescinding the entire June 24 amendment.


Kazmierski said he stood by his reductions because they align with the public’s demands. He also accused the Burnett County CDAC of ignoring public opinion by “doubling down” on its antlerless-quota recommendations even though the county’s herd was in a “four-year decline.”


Interestingly, Kazmierski later claimed the scientific model that provided those possible herd declines had been “totally discredited” by other scientists. For the record, the DNR’s “sex-age-kill” system has been tweaked but never “discredited” through a scientific peer-review process, Hofacker said. 


When contacted after the meeting, Fritsch said he was disappointed the Board didn’t rescind its entire June 24 amendment, but was glad it reconsidered its earlier actions.


“We tried, but I still stand with the CDAC recommendations,” Fritsch said. “I thank the DNR staff for their support and input into our efforts. The Board could have worked with us and dealt better with those numbers. A zero harvest in Oconto County’s Northern forest is not the answer.”


Hofacker also expressed disappointment. “It appears to me that deer hunters don’t have to bother studying deer data in forming their opinions of our Northern forest zone antlerless quota and permit levels,” he said. “All they have to do is complain to the Board when the buck-kill is lower than they would like, state there are no deer in the Northern forest, and tell the Board to reduce the CDAC recommendations. That’s painful to see, but life goes on.”

In a special meeting July 30, Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board restored the original quotas for four Northern forest counties, but let stand reductions it made to seven other Northern counties at its June meeting. — Patrick Durkin photo

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