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  • Patrick Durkin

Wisconsin Board Rudely Overrules Locals and Deer Science

The good ol’ boys holding a 4-3 majority on Wisconsin’s Natural Resources reduced Bayfield County’s antlerless deer recommendations for the third straight year without consulting local leaders who set them.


But unlike the past two years when DNR Secretary Preston Cole blasted the old-boys’ club for their “11th-hour” games, the agency sat silent. Cole wasn’t present when the NRB voted 4-3 on June 22 to reduce Bayfield County’s public-land antlerless tags from 2,750 to 500, and he didn’t respond to emails requesting comment the next two days.


Even so, the NRB — seven governor-appointed citizens who set DNR policy — had ample time to consult Bayfield County's 10-member Deer Advisory Council. The CDAC members voted 6-3 seven weeks earlier for a 3,000 antlerless quota this fall, and 2,750 antlerless permits for public lands, and 8,250 permits for private lands.


The Bayfield CDAC set those numbers after discussing input from 375 citizens, including experts on deer-caused browse damage and forest suppression, and insights from tribal, tourism, agriculture and transportation representatives. The CDAC’s 21-page minutes for its May 4 meeting indicate they were fair, deliberate and well-reasoned.


The NRB isn’t required to consult CDACs before changing their recommendations, but that’s what professional, respectful, precedent-following groups do before overruling people who did their jobs. The NRB majority of chair Greg Kazmierski, vice chair Bill Bruins, and members Fred Prehn and Terry Hilgenberg are none of those things, and routinely ignore such dignities.


In contrast, citizens submitting comments or documents for NRB meetings must file everything one week early so Board members and DNR staff can prepare.


Likewise, when DNR biologists disagree with CDAC recommendations — a rarity since this system’s 2014 creation — agency reps talk with the councilors before changing anything. This year, for example, the DNR objected to Florence County’ antlerless recommendations. The agency consulted the Florence CDAC before increasing the antlerless quota from 160 to 300, and increasing private-land permits from 300 to 750.


Despite those compromises, the NRB rejected the DNR’s advice and reinstated local recommendations.


Quick refresher: Each Wisconsin county (except the Menominee reservation) has a deer advisory council. Each nine- to 10-member CDAC has local representatives for hunting, farming, tourism, transportation and other interests. The councils also include nonvoting DNR biologists; and local, county, state or federal foresters to offer analysis.


The 71 CDACs gather local comments each spring about their county’s deer herd, and craft preliminary recommendations for public review. After the CDACs analyze that second round of feedback, they submit final recommendations to the DNR by mid-May.


With all that vetting, the DNR and NRB rarely changed CDAC advice from 2014 through 2019. Then Kazmierski led efforts in 2020 to change 11 CDAC decisions across the Northwoods without consulting any CDAC leaders. His behind-the-scenes shenanigans with Prehn, Bruins and Hilgenberg violated the state’s open-meetings laws, forcing the NRB to reconvene. Cole pledged them to not repeat the sneaky mess in 2021, and to “get on the same page” beforehand to allow public review.


But when the NRB met in June 2021, Kazmierski and his three amigos again changed six CDAC recommendations without prior consultation. Cole erupted: “We said last June we would get to these CDACs early and often, and be in the room when they started having those conversations. Am I right, Doc (Prehn)? ... Here we are at the 11th hour again, and we didn't do what we said we were going to do. … I’m not going to get my ass handed to me because of the Board’s (broken promises) to these … CDACs.”


Maybe Cole now accepts such abuse. During the NRB meeting June 22, the DNR basically sacrificed the Bayfield CDAC by letting Kazmierski and Prehn insult and disregard its work. Kazmierski again misrepresented biology and historical data to justify slashing antlerless permits on the county’s public lands. He even blamed a 3,000-antlerless quota in 2012 for the herd’s plunge in 2013-14.


“That’s typically how it works with a quota of 3,000,” Kazmierski said. “You kill the antlerless deer this year and see the decline the following years.”


Buck pellets. Sequestered as he is 350 miles south in Waukesha County, Kazmierski apparently forgot that 2013 produced the Northwoods’ worst winter for deer since the DNR began tracking such data in 1959. Bayfield County registered a “148” on the DNR’s winter severity index in 2013, 48 points higher than the index’s “very severe” level.


And Prehn again supported Kazmierski’s distortions. “When you do what Kaz says, you increase opportunity in the future,” Prehn preached. “Hunters … might not see the increase this year, but if you go a couple of years with the decreased hammering of the public-lands herd, you’ll have better hunting up there. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that.”


Ah yes, rocket science. Apparently, Fred “Rocket Man” Prehn doesn’t realize it’s futile to try stockpiling deer on stressed habitat. If Bayfield County’s hunters hadn’t shot 2,272 antlerless deer in 2012, the herd would have likely lost those deer and more to the deadly 2013 winter that soon followed. Frozen, marrow-jellied deer don’t improve hunting.


Speaking of junk scientists, Prehn and Bruins earlier in the meeting shared their comical insights into grasslands predation. Prehn claimed the DNR’s prairie-chicken plans for the Leola, Paul J. Olson and Buena Vista wildlife areas west of Stevens Point doesn’t address predators.


“There are coyotes all over that grasslands,” Prehn said. “And coyotes eat prairie chickens, folks. That’s what they do. Nothing in this plan addresses predators. What are we going to do about it?”


DNR wildlife manager Alaina Gerrits kept a straight face when answering Prehn, who obviously hadn’t read the plan he was bashing. “We’re not denying predators have an impact on prairie chickens,” Gerrits said. “They absolutely do, but … there has been a ton of research on predator control, and it shows it mostly doesn’t work. If you (intensively) target coyotes, which are definitely nest predators, (you’ll produce) a mesopredator release. More small predators like skunks and raccoons will move in and fill that niche … and you’ll never keep up with it.”


Prehn and Bruins sat silent, trapped like lazy schoolkids who put cartoons before homework.


Wisconsin deserves more from its NRB members, whether the subject is deer, predators or basic human decency.

Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board changed deer hunting recommendations without proper public notice for the third straight year. — Cuddeback Digital photo

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