Wisconsin Natural Resources Board Elects its Jester
If a meteor were to strike Earth tomorrow, and a coyote and Greg Kazmierski were the only survivors to crawl from the rubble, who would you bet on to last the year?
Kaz, of course, but he’d still blame the coyote for killing all the deer.
In case you don’t recognize that name, Kazmierski was elected Jan. 26 as chair of Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board, the seven-citizen group picked by governors to set policy for the Department of Natural Resources. Former Gov. Scott Walker appointed Kazmierski to the Board in January 2011 and reappointed him in 2017. He previously served as the Board’s vice-chair.
One must admire Kazmierski’s survival instincts. For over 30 years he’s owned and operated Buck Rub Outfitters, a Delafield archery shop he calls the “The Midwest’s Bowhunting and Crossbow Authority.” Such longevity deserves respect. “Long-lived” and “archery shop” aren’t descriptions often sharing one sentence.
Kazmierski must be a solid, highly efficient businessman because you’d swear he spent the 1990s and most of the 2000s sending faxes, circulating petitions, and sharing fact-free analyses about deer hunting to every state policymaker breathing. Only a man of reliable wealth and good office management could so routinely drive an hour to Madison to muck up Capitol hearings and DNR “stakeholder” meetings with mind-numbing attacks on wolves, antlerless quotas, earn-a-buck rules, deer-herd estimates, wolf-pack estimates, extended gun seasons, holiday gun seasons, Zone T regulations, public attitude surveys, and efforts to control chronic wasting disease.
His attacks were emotional, sparse on facts, and consistently inconsistent. In a 2007 article for the “Wisconsin Sportsmen’s Digest,” Kazmierski even blamed earn-a-buck regulations for a loss of 60,000 deer hunters since 2000. Somehow he didn’t note that license sales actually peaked in 2000 after the Legislature created EAB in 1996. He also didn’t note that gun-deer license sales tumbled nearly 70,000 after CWD’s discovery in February 2002.
Undeterred, Kazmierski played the Nazi card five years later in his article, writing: “Quite an accomplishment resulting from our DNR’s Gestapo-like deer management regulations.”
Meanwhile, Kazmierski created bogus groups like the “Wisconsin Deer Hunters Coalition,” and claimed to represent thousands of its “members,” even though he couldn’t present membership rolls, voting records, or state-registered organization records.
If you’ve seen TV reruns of “Green Acres” and its character Mr. Haney, you’ve seen that schtick. In case you don’t get the reference or can’t Google it, Mr. Haney was a laughable con man. Whenever he arrived to help Mr. Douglas on “Green Acres,” he unrolled a different business sign. One day it was a taxi service, the next a delivery service, the next a chicken-sitting service, and the next an unemployment agency.
That was Kazmierski when appearing at NRB, DNR and legislative hearings. In one memorable appearance at an NRB meeting, he even claimed to represent the NRA. After Board member Christine Thomas voiced skepticism, Kazmierski never again used that line.
But give Kazmierski credit. He eventually hired former state senator and failed U.S. Senate candidate Bob Welch as chief lobbyist for his next effort, the “Hunters’ Rights Coalition.” If nothing else, Kaz’s new sidekick sparked more giggles at public hearings when Welch — a hunter-wannabe who had never killed a deer — complained about seeing too few deer and acted as if he were a modern-day Natty Bumppo.
Welch eventually played that role once too often. When repeating it in a 2011 press release and then speaking at a state Senate hearing, he caused the presiding officer, Sen. Neil Kedzie, to grin as the crowd snickered at Welch’s bad acting.
Kazmierski and Welch, of course, were getting the last laugh by then. They stumped for Scott Walker in the 2010 governor’s race, donated to Walker’s campaign, hung Walker’s signs above Kazmierski’s store, and arranged rallies so Walker could tell hunters that he, too, wanted to see more deer, even though he never killed a deer either.
And so with those qualifications and a hunting license, Kazmierski got himself appointed to the NRB after Walker’s victory.
Kazmierski has since ignored CWD’s relentless spread, made a mess of Wisconsin’s deer program, and slashed gun-hunters’ opportunities while increasing those of bowhunters. In Wisconsin’s innocent pre-Kazmierski era, the 2010 archery season covered 104 days. The 2010 gun seasons totaled 44 days, including a four-day antlerless-only season in mid-October and a 17-day either-sex season from late December through early January.
With Kazmierski railroading the DNR, Wisconsin now has 10 more days of archery hunting and 13 fewer days of gun hunting. At Kazmierski’s suggestion, the NRB killed the popular and productive mid-October gun season, and slashed nine days from the holiday season while restricting it to antlerless-only hunting.
For those keeping score, that’s Archery 104, Gun 44 in 2010, and 114-31 today. The current gap is 132-31 for counties offering January archery hunting.
Amazingly, none of Kazmierski’s Board colleagues publicly questioned his conflicts of interest as an archery-shop owner. They don’t even ask why Kazmierski’s biography on the DNR’s website doesn’t mention his archery business. In fact, when outsiders raise such issues, Kazmierski’s apologists on the Board like Fred Prehn and Bill Bruins dismiss it as unfair.
Therefore, no Board members dared smirk Jan. 26 when Bruins nominated Kazmierski as chair. His nomination and election were foregone conclusions. Before the vote, Kazmierski accepted the nomination by expressing hope the Board would live happily ever after, and blamed Covid-19 for their recent lack of warmth.
“This board hasn’t really gotten to know each other very well except on YouTube,” Kazmierski said. “I’m looking forward to getting this board to gel like we have in the past.”
The discord between Board members appointed by Walker and those by Gov. Tony Evers has little to do with Covid or video conferencing. It’s mostly about Kazmierski and partisan politics that allow Prehn to squat on a Board post that expired May 1.
If Prehn, Bruins and Board member Terry Hilgenberg were more about principle than party, they would’ve held Kazmierski responsible for two straight summers of deer-quota shenanigans. Not only did he violate the state’s open-meeting laws in July 2020, but he also betrayed the Wisconsin Conservation Congress during the 2020 and 2021 deer-quota process. For his encore, he dragged Wisconsin into a humiliating quagmire with his legally indefensible wolf-hunting plans in 2021.
Prehn, Bruins and Hilgenberg had front-row seats for the Kazmierski Clown Show the past decade, and yet they elected him NRB chair for the next year.
Something suggests we ain’t seen nothing yet.
And covering our eyes won’t make things better.
Greg Kazmierski, far left, owner of the Buck Rub Outfitters archery shop in Delafield, is the new chair of Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board, which sets policy for the Department of Natural Resources. — Patrick Durkin photo