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  • Writer's picturePatrick Durkin

Former Members of Wis. DNR Board Blast Vote on Antlerless Deer Quotas

Three former members of Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board sent a protest letter Thursday to the current Board, urging they rescind a controversial 5-2 decision June 24 to reduce antlerless deer quotas in 11 Northwoods counties.

The NRB sets policy for the Department of Natural Resources. Its seven members are appointed by the governor to staggered six-year terms.

The three former NRB members — Dave Clausen of Amery, who served 2007-2013; Fred Clark, Baraboo, 2019-2020; and John “Duke” Welter, Eau Claire, 2004-2011 — wrote that they “suspect” four current NRB members violated Wisconsin’s open-meetings law by discussing detailed plans to reduce antlerless-deer quotas in advance of the June 24 meeting. The accused members are Board Chair Fred Prehn of Wausau; Vice Chair Greg Kazmierski, Pewaukee; Terry Hilgenberg, Shawano; and Bill Bruins, Waupun.

Clausen, Clark and Welter suspect the four Board members created a “walking quorum” by communicating June 23 via emails, text messages, and phone calls, which is forbidden by the state’s open meetings law. In their July 15 letter to NRB members and DNR Secretary Preston Cole, Clausen, Clark and Welter wrote:

“The public appearance of this action is counter to the spirit and intent of the Open Meetings Law, and it is 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.”

As first reported here two weeks ago, Kazmierski completed a 16-page report early in the morning June 23 that slashed 5,650 antlerless permits on public lands and 500 antlerless permits on private lands across 11 counties. In a telephone interview July 1, Kazmierski said he initiated his report at Bruin’s request. The affected counties are Bayfield, Burnett, Douglas, Florence, Langlade, Lincoln, Marinette, Oconto, Oneida, Sawyer and Vilas.

Documents obtained July 3 through Freedom of Information Act requests show Kazmierski emailed his original report to Prehn, Bruins and Hilgenberg shortly before 2 a.m. on June 23. In a text-message to Kazmierski at 6:32 a.m. that day, Prehn responded: “Heavy work. Great document. Now how do we put this into a simple motion. Should you send this out before the meeting? Or go one on one with people. Plus we can’t have Terry (Hilgenberg) go off on a tangent. Get this to Terry today and talk it through. OK. We’ll chat tonight. I should be back home by 7:30 or so.”

During the July 1 telephone interview, Kazmierski said he revised his report after speaking with Hilgenberg on June 23. He then emailed his final draft at 8 p.m. to Board members Bill Smith, Shell Lake; and Julie Anderson, Sturtevant; but never sent it to Marcy West, La Farge. West knew nothing of the revised quotas until the 8:30 a.m. meeting began June 24 and Kazmierski offered an amendment based on his report.

After much discussion and argument, the Board voted 5-2 to cut the quotas, with Smith and West opposing.

Clausen said he’s considering actions beyond the July 15 letter, but wouldn’t specify if that meant filing an open-meetings complaint with the Department of Justice.

“I’m just hoping the Board considers our request, and that no further action will be necessary,” Clausen said. “We understand it’s sometimes necessary to offer last-minute amendments during a Board meeting, but this was an amendment based on a 16-page report. That’s not a spur-of-the-moment decision.”

Welter said the Board pushed the changes through June 24, ignoring opportunities for public testimony and preventing other Board members from studying Kazmierski’s report.

“It’s important for Board members to discuss, deliberate and be well-informed before voting,” Welter said. “That didn’t happen at all in this case. Springing a 16-page report at the last minute on two members, and never sending it to another member, is contrary to the NRB’s mission and traditions. If I were still on the Board and had that sprung on me, I’d be justifiably indignant.”

Clark said the NRB’s credibility rests on “open, transparent and democratic processes.” He said those “long-held traditions simply were not followed in this case.”

Kazmierski wrote his 16-page report in response to 2020 deer-season recommendations, which were submitted June 15 by the DNR on behalf of the state’s 71 County Deer Advisory Councils. Each county’s nine-member CDAC represent hunting, farming, tourism and other interests, with input from local foresters and DNR biologists. Kazmierski helped create the CDAC system in 2014, and previous Boards seldom changed CDAC recommendations.

The DNR approved all 71 antlerless-deer quotas set by the CDACs, which issued their recommendations after two rounds of record-setting public-comment periods involving over 35,000 hunters and other citizens participating online.

Kazmierski said July 1 he talked to none of the 11 affected CDAC chairs while preparing his report, but instead talked to other CDAC members he declined to identify. Prehn, however, claimed during the June 24 Board meeting that he “talked to a number of CDAC chairmen,” and that “they’re extremely OK with this.”

The CDAC chairs dispute Prehn’s claims. The chairs in Bayfield and Douglas counties confirmed by email that no NRB member spoke to them, and the other nine chairs confirmed by phone they never talked to Prehn. Prehn ignored phone and email messages seeking comment.

Clausen said Prehn and Kazmierski’s claims bothered him, Clark and Welter. “We’re concerned that Mr. Prehn and Mr. Kazmierski were less than candid with the rest of the Board regarding communications they claimed they had with CDAC people,” Clausen said.

Clark and Welter said it’s not too late for the Board to rescind its vote, hold a special one-item meeting as Cole suggested June 24, and solicit input from CDAC chairs.

“The gun-deer season is four months away,” Clark said. “There’s time to reconsider. Let’s not forget our Supreme Court changed our election laws a week before April’s elections, but we figured out how to roll with it. The public must be able to weigh in on changes this extensive, and Board members can’t do their jobs if decisions are literally being made beforehand in the middle of the night.”

Three former members of the citizen board that sets policy for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources think four current Board members acted improperly June 24 when reducing antlerless deer quotas across much of the Northern forest.

— Submitted photo by Stealthcam

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