Deer Quota Snafu Spurs Formal Complaint to DA
Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board agreed Thursday (July 23) to convene a special meeting to reconsider cuts it made in June to antlerless deer quotas in 11 northern counties.
That action, however, didn’t stop former NRB member Dave Clausen from sending a formal complaint to Dane County’s district attorney July 24, alleging the Board violated two open-meetings laws at its June meeting.
The seven-citizen NRB sets policy for the Department of Natural Resources board. During its June 24 meeting, the Board voted 5-2 to cut doe/fawn permits by 5,650 on public lands and 500 on private lands across the 11 counties. The surprise move didn’t allow public comments or timely review by three of its members.
The quotas were 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 large changes. The 11 affected counties are Bayfield, Burnett, Douglas, Florence, Langlade, Lincoln, Marinette, Oconto, Oneida, Sawyer and Vilas.
The NRB’s “redo” meeting will begin Thursday (July 30) at 7 a.m. The “virtual” meeting will be held online and broadcast on Wisconsin Eye. The Board will allow public testimony from those who register by 10 a.m. Wednesday (July 29).
Clausen said the NRB’s “do-over” doesn’t alter his opinion that it twice violated the state’s open-meetings laws June 24. Clausen worked with attorney Christa Westerberg, co-vice president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council in Madison, to prepare a formal complaint. He expects the Dane County DA’s office to receive it Monday (July 27).
Clausen alleges the Board committed a “walking quorum” violation by communicating about the quota reductions before the June 24 meeting. His complaint also states the Board didn’t give the mandated 24-hour notice of the quota amendment beforehand, making public comment impossible.
Clausen, along with former Board members Fred Clark and John “Duke” Welter, also sent a protest letter July 15 to the current Board and DNR Secretary Preston Cole, stating in part: “The public appearance of this action is counter to the spirit and intent of the Open Meetings Law, and counter to the tradition of openness that we as former members expect from the NRB. … We urge you strongly to formally reconsider this action via a special meeting that includes opportunity for public comment and testimony.”
When contacted Friday night (July 24), Clausen said he’s glad the Board will reconsider its quota vote, but “enough is enough.” He thinks the Board too often abandons its own public-involvement process, and instead adopts Board vice chair Greg Kazmierski’s personal preferences without public review.
“Let’s not forget we wouldn’t have these county deer councils if not for widespread changes to Wisconsin’s deer program that Mr. Kazmierski led six years ago,” Clausen said. “I find this all ironic. He favors ‘the people’ controlling the deer herd only until he doesn’t like their recommendations.
“Last summer a Chippewa Valley citizens committee worked with the DNR to require in-person deer registration for CWD testing around Eau Claire County,” Clausen continued. “Mr. Kazmierski led everyone to believe he was on board, but then the Board killed the agreement in late September without a formal vote. All this secrecy and middle-of-the-night policy changes must stop. That’s why I’m making an issue out of it.”
Kazmierski specified the cuts to doe/fawn permits in a 16-page report he emailed to Board chair Fred Prehn, and members Bill Bruins and Terry Hilgenberg about 2 a.m. on June 23; roughly 30 hours before the meeting. After revising his report later that day after communicating with Prehn and Hilgenberg, Kazmierski emailed it to Board members Bill Smith and Julie Anderson at 8 p.m., roughly 12 hours before the meeting. He never sent it to Board member Marcy West, who knew nothing of the changes until Kazmierski offered an amendment based on his report during the meeting.
Smith, West, Anderson and Cole voiced concerns about the last-minute changes. Cole then suggested the Board table the item and convene a special meeting in early July so everyone could review the changes. Instead, the Board stood by its 5-2 vote to reduce the quotas, with Smith and West opposing.
Kazmierski contends he crafted and presented his amendment the same way members often amend deer quotas. He also said he worked with DNR lawyers to ensure he didn’t violate open-meeting laws, but agency staff have not returned emails and phone calls seeking comment or verification.
In an interview Friday night with the Associated Press, Bruins called Clausen’s allegations “a bunch of hooey.” Hilgenberg told the AP the accusations were “ridiculous and unfounded.” Hilgenberg also claimed the former Board members don’t like him, Bruins, Prehn and Kazmierski because they were appointed by former Gov. Scott Walker. Clausen and Welter were appointed by former Gov. James Doyle, and Clark by Gov. Tony Evers.
The Board’s quota reductions, however, also generated criticism from CDAC members statewide. All 11 CDAC chairs in the affected counties also refuted Prehn’s claims that he talked to several of them before the June meeting.
Prehn and Kazmierski have also sparked frequent criticisms the past year from the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, a 355 citizen-delegation that advises the Board. Mark Noll, chair of Buffalo County’s delegation, said in April, “Kazmierski’s resignation from the NRB would be of great benefit to Wisconsin.”
Ralph Fritsch, co-chair of Oconto County’s CDAC, said the Board’s actions June 24 were a “slap in the face” to everyone in the CDAC process. “I’m way past being nice about this stuff,” Fritsch said. “I put at least 25 hours into our county’s review process, and I’m just one of many people on our committee who worked just as hard. I have a hard time believing Kazmierski knows what’s best for Oconto County’s deer herd.”
Rick Olson, chair of Sawyer County’s CDAC, said his committee feels frustrated. “We call this mess ‘the Kaz amendment,’” Olson said. “He changed our recommendations without talking to any of us. I respect the CDAC process. We put a lot of time and thought into it, so yes, I resent the Board changing our recommendations based on hearsay.”
Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board will reconsider cuts it made to doe and fawn hunting quotas during its meeting June 24. — Patrick Durkin photo