Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board staged an embarrassing goat rope during its monthly meeting June 24 when rejecting antlerless deer quotas set by 11 County Deer Advisory Councils.
This episode of “The Barstool Biologists” featured guile, temper tantrums, “mansplaining” and affronts to Wisconsin’s open-meeting rules by Board Chair Frederick Prehn and Vice Chair Greg Kazmierski.
Prehn, Kazmierski, and fellow NRB members Bill Bruins and Terry Hilgenberg had Kazmierski’s 16-page report for cutting antlerless deer quotas and permit numbers for this year’s hunts early in the day June 23. The other three Board members didn’t receive it until hours before the meeting, leaving no time for scrutiny or public comment before the Board approved the cuts on a 5-2 vote.
Board member Marcy West, in fact, knew nothing of the cuts for 11 Northwoods counties until the meeting began and Kazmierski’s amendment appeared on Board members’ computer screens during the teleconference. Kazmierski emailed his report to Board members Bill Smith and Julie Anderson at 8 p.m. the night before.
Kazmierski wrote his report in response to 2020 deer-season recommendations, which were submitted June 15 by the Department of Natural Resources and the state’s 71 County Deer Advisory Councils. Each county’s nine-member CDACs 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 accepted all 71 antlerless-deer quotas set by the CDACs, which made their recommendations after two rounds of record-setting public-comment periods that drew online input from over 35,000 hunters and other citizens.
Despite the DNR and CDACs’ joint agreements, Kazmierski’s amendment cut antlerless permits by a combined 5,650 on public lands in the 11 Northwoods counties, and 500 antlerless permits for private lands. The affected counties are Bayfield, Burnett, Douglas, Florence, Langlade, Lincoln, Marinette, Oconto, Oneida, Sawyer and Vilas.
Kazmierski emailed his original report to Prehn, Bruins and Hilgenberg between 1:43 a.m. and 1:54 a.m. on June 23. In an interview July 1, Kazmierski said he revised his report later that day after speaking with Hilgenberg, and emailed the final draft to Smith and Anderson that night.
Kazmierski said his work began after Bruins asked him to study hunters’ complaints about low deer numbers up north. He said he emailed his report’s first draft to Prehn, Bruins and Hilgenberg because they showed the most interest. He also said he didn’t email his final report to West because he hadn’t yet met her in person, and didn’t know if she’d be interested. West joined the Board in January.
When asked July 1 if he was concerned his pre-meeting collaborations with Prehn, Bruins and Hilgenberg might violate the state’s open-meeting laws, Kazmierski said he worked with the DNR’s legal team to ensure he complied. DNR Secretary Preston Cole and other administrators didn’t respond to an email request for comment.
Even so, those collaborations look iffy. The Wisconsin Department of Justice’s definition states that a “walking quorum” violation occurs when a series of phone calls, emails or other contacts between a quorum-size group (in this case, four NRB members) produces a “predetermined outcome and thus render(s) a publicly held meeting a mere formality.”
Anyone watching the June 24 meeting can see Kazmierski’s amendment and report caught the other three Board members unprepared as he and his three amigos pushed it through. While presenting it, Kazmierski accused the 11 CDACs of ignoring public input and preferences, and said they caved to foresters who pressured them for higher antlerless kills. He also said CDAC members told him they were relieved the Board was stepping in.
Kazmierski did not, however, consult CDAC leaders while preparing his report. When interviewed July 1, he said: “To be perfectly honest, I didn’t talk to any chairs.” When asked who he talked to, he wouldn’t disclose names, claiming they feared they would lose their CDAC seats.
Of the nine CDAC chairs I called, none criticized foresters or DNR staff assisting their councils. Instead, they praised the foresters and biologists. “I’ve never been pressured by our forester,” said Ed Choinski, chair of Oneida County’s CDAC. “To say they’re making us ignore the public, that’s a pretty bold statement.”
Hilgenberg, meanwhile, called the CDAC chairs for Florence County, Dale Ebert; Marinette County, Thomas Johnston; and Vilas County, Kurt Justice, to discuss their counties’ recommendations. Johnston said Hilgenberg informed him the NRB planned to eliminate the antlerless quota in Marinette County’s forest zone. When reached July 1, Johnston said the Board has the prerogative to change quotas, but considered their action disrespectful and a “self-inflicted wound.”
Speaking of Prehn, the mercurial dentist misrepresented his outreach to CDACs. At the June 24 meeting, Prehn said he didn’t like changing CDAC recommendations, but that he “talked to a number of CDAC chairmen” who said the North’s public lands are getting hammered.
“It’s our responsibility to stop that trend and reverse the trend,” Prehn said. “The CDAC chairs I talked to, they're extremely OK with this.”
Ahem. Prehn is correct in saying some CDAC chairs accepted the Board’s actions. Of the 11 chairs, five relented, saying their CDAC votes were close anyway; but six expressed reactions ranging from disappointment to anger.
But just like Kazmierski, Prehn called no CDAC chairs. The chairs in Bayfield and Douglas counties confirmed by email that no NRB member spoke to them, and the other nine CDAC chairs confirmed in phone calls they never spoke to Prehn.
Prehn ignored phone and email messages seeking comment.
Prehn also grew angry during the June 24 NRB meeting when Secretary Cole questioned the “transparency” of the late-arriving report. Cole told the Board he would not have voted on such short notice, and suggested they hold a one-issue special meeting the week of July 6. The Board ignored Cole’s idea.
Earlier, Prehn ridiculed West after she questioned the validity of Kazmierski using 1995 buck-kill data — the year gun-hunters registered a state-record 171,891 bucks — as the benchmark for comparing current buck numbers.
West asked, “The population and quotas are one component, but if the habitat doesn't support the deer the other 340 days of the year, aren’t we missing some of the holistic issues surrounding the deer herd?”
Prehn responded: “Are you claiming the … Northern forest land can’t hold more deer? Is that what you’re proposing or saying?”
After chortling arrogantly Prehn continued: “I don’t agree with that at all. I know the foresters don’t want any deer … but the forests have changed. If anything, the forests have increased their deer habitat with all the logging that’s been going on the past five to 10 years. … Clearly now there is actually more habitat for whitetail.”
Prehn owes West a public apology. Here’s what the DNR’s 2020 Forest Action Plan reports on Page 23:
“A notable pattern over the past few decades has been the increasing acreage of stands that are getting older in Wisconsin. … The acreage of forest stands older than 60 years increased by nearly 80% between 1983 and 2017. In that same time period, the acreage of forest stands younger than 60 years decreased by 18%.”
A suggestion for Chair Prehn and Vice Chair Kazmierski: Instead of working till 2 a.m. skirting Wisconsin’s open-meetings laws, rescind the Board’s 5-2 vote and take Cole’s suggestion to convene a special meeting.
Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board played loose with the facts June 24 while rejecting recommendations from 11 County Deer Advisory Councils across the state’s Northern forests. — Patrick Durkin photo