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GOP Hunting, Fishing Bills Could Use Some Purging

Several hunting buddies text-messaged me Oct. 6, wondering why GOP lawmakers would buddy-up with some upstart Kansas bunch called Hunter Nation to propose 13 changes to Wisconsin’s hunting and fishing programs.


After all, the state’s hunters, anglers and trappers have regularly elected over 350 representatives to the Wisconsin Conservation Congress since its creation in 1934. In fact, the Legislature in 1972 passed a law that basically gives the WCC a hotline to the Natural Resources Board, which sets policy for the Department of Natural Resources. (Well, at least the NRB set DNR policy until the Board’s current anti-science majority fell off their Earth’s flat surface over wolves.)


Wisconsin has also had the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation since 1949, which helps represent nearly every gun club and conservation group in the state, no matter the species of fish, gamebird, furbearer or big-game animal their members embrace. Wisconsin is also home to the most active and generous state chapters of national groups that financially and legislatively support elk, ducks, turkeys, trout, deer, pheasants and ruffed grouse, to name a few.


So yeah, lawmakers like Sen. Rob Stafsholt, R-New Richmond; and Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, shouldn’t struggle finding local conservationists to work with when claiming Gov. Tony Evers and the DNR don’t listen to Wisconsin’s outdoors men and women.


If they were honest, they’d just say the DNR isn’t listening. But we get it: The DNR can’t run for governor in 2022. But claiming Evers doesn’t listen to hunters, anglers and trappers overstates the obvious. That’s news? Personally, I’m relieved Evers doesn’t pretend to know anything about hunters, anglers and trappers. At least he’s not a phony.


Maybe that’s the problem, though. Even a nonhunter like Evers realizes all 13 ideas in the so-called Wisconsin Sporting Freedom Package could have been handled from 2011 to 2018 when former Gov. Scott Walker ran around pretending to be a hunter, angler and Easy Rider. In fact, the GOP couldn't even pass the best idea in this current package: a sandhill crane hunting season.


That idea has been bobbing around in Wisconsin’s conservation limbo since the late 1990s, even after we opened a mourning dove season in 2003. The dove season quickly became a nonevent, as would a sandhill crane season.


A bill to allow crane hunting last surfaced in 2011 during Gov. Walker’s first year in office. Former state Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, couldn’t even get his bill out of committee, apparently because at least one big-money GOP donor quietly warned everyone to walk away and pretend they never saw Kleefisch’s bill.


If the Wisconsin Sporting Freedom Package is such a great collection of conservation wizardry and good government, why doesn’t Stafsholt invite the WCC’s executive committee to his Capitol office for coffee, donuts and a PowerPoint presentation? I’m sure he could persuade them to include those 13 items on the spring 2022 questionnaire for all 72 Wisconsin counties to vote on.


Still, I don’t necessarily dislike this Freedom Package, especially if it’s subject to its bill that would require the DNR to eliminate three hunting, fishing and trapping rules each time a new rule is proposed. Assuming that simplification bill would instantly take effect, the DNR should embrace its newfound veto powers.


By approving that bill, as well as a sandhill-crane season, and a bill to allow mentored hunts to satisfy field-testing requirements for hunter-education training, the Legislature would require the DNR to eliminate up to nine of the Freedom Package’s lesser ideas, and spare us lots of arguing, hissing and eye-gouging on Facebook.


I’d suggest the DNR start the purge by axing the Freedom Package bill that would consolidate Wisconsin’s popular six-period, seven-zone turkey season into two long seasons in two huge zones. Sheesh. Talk about a solution in search of a problem.


Let’s not forget a similar idea died ingloriously just a few years ago for lack of evidence and public support. If Stafsholt wants to mess with the spring turkey season, just restore its original opener on the second Wednesday in April, and tack on a seventh week at the end for die-hards who like hunting through Memorial Day weekend.


Next up, the DNR could use three of its purge coupons to kill bills that would require the agency to annually stock 200,000 pheasants and a minimum 100,000 brook trout, and recruit more privately owned fish farms to stock more sport fish in lakes and streams.


Sigh. I thought we learned this past century that we’re wasting money and disrupting natural systems by constantly force-feeding various species into our land and waters. Once transplanted, these artificial birds and fish either corrupt the ecosystem or die quickly without endless government support.


Holy time machine, folks. If the GOP wants the 1950s back, can’t they just buy some Davy Crockett hats and try shooting squirrels from the Capitol’s dome with kit-built flintlocks?


The DNR could use another purge coupon to forge a compromise for the “hunting license simplification” bill, which suggests the agency consolidate or eliminate some of the many types of hunting, fishing and trapping licenses it sells.


Here’s where to start that process: the ridiculous deer season structure we’ve endured since 2014. If you want simplification, why let our 72 counties set 72 different combinations of deer seasons with separate antlerless tags for public and private lands?


To clean up that tangled mess, the DNR will need lots of purge coupons. To jump-start the cleanup with nine purge coupons, the Legislature might want to OK those Freedom Package bills that would let the DNR issue dog-training licenses online, prepare a catalog of public-access opportunities, and create a biennial workplan for enhancing habitats on DNR properties.


When those jobs are complete, the DNR should invite the GOP to start publicly suggesting which other hunting, fishing and trapping rules to ax. Lawmakers will find no quicker way to meet angry hunters, anglers and trappers.


Maybe then we’ll see how well the GOP listens to Wisconsin’s outdoors men and women.

A new package of GOP-sponsored hunting, fishing and trapping bills offer few ideas we haven’t heard before. — Patrick Durkin photo

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