The Natural Resources Board voted Tuesday to allow hunters and trappers to pursue their prey in Wisconsin state parks from Nov. 15 to Dec. 15, and the month of April.
The action deviates sharply from earlier recommendations, shocked people on both sides of the debate and may conflict with what lawmakers intended when they passed the Sporting Heritage Bill last year.
“That was an amazing, surprise ending,” Bob Richards said after the vote. “I’m almost at a loss for words.”
Richards, representing the Door County Silent Sports Alliance, was one of the dozens of outdoor enthusiasts who implored the board to reject a proposal that would allow hunting in nearly all state parks from Oct. 15 to late May, a seven-month season of chasing deer waterfowl and small game. Described as “non-consumptive visitors,” the hikers, bikers, cross-country skiers, photographers and bird-watchers dominated the five-hour public hearing that preceded the vote, as they did earlier comment periods.
More than 95% of the letters and emails directed to the board came from people who objected to the expansion of hunting. One parks advocate called the proposal a crass sell-out to the hunting and trapping interests that would put people in danger as they sought peace and exercise.
The NRB members listened.
They also disregarded the subtle guidance of DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, who counseled that a Nov. 15 to Dec. 15 hunting season was probably far less than the legislators had in mind when they passed the law that declared all state parks would be open to hunting and trapping. But the legislature gave the DNR Board the authority to implement the law, and in a way that protects public safety.
They did so, with a plan that largely follows the previous practice, with most of the 49 state parks open for hunting during the gun deer season. Maps detailing the parks areas that will be open to hunting – roughly 63,000 acres – can be found here. Roughly 32,000 acres of land in state parks will remain closed to hunting.
The new rules did not impact state recreational areas or state forests, where hunting has been allowed for decades.
The action, on a unanimous vote, also extends bow hunting in state parks through early January, allows bow hunting through the traditional season in Buckhorn State Park, and prohibits hunting and trapping in Gov. Nelson State Park.
Bob Welch, a former legislator and lobbyist for the Wisconsin Hunters Rights Coalition, joined Richards as someone “totally shocked” by the vote, and not in a good way. The board ignored the will of the legislature, which had sought a far greater expansion of hunting in the state he said.
The complaints about being afraid to visit state parks full of hunters and rifles were without merit, he said. He called the board’s action “actionable,” without sharing specifics.
Clearly, the Nov. 15 to Dec. 15 season was far less than hunting groups and the legislature had in mind when the state parks amendment was added to the Sporting Heritage Bill.
The author of the amendment, Rep. Jeffrey Mursau (R-Crivitz) told the board:
“My amendment changed arbitrary closures; reversed the presumption all state parks automatically closed to hunting. Hunting, fishing and trapping are constitutional rights in the state of Wisconsin. Regardless of what you hear today, peace and quiet are not constitutional rights.”
Mursau left before the vote, but it’s likely the legislature will attempt to take another shot at giving hunters “access to hunt in state parks in every corner of the state.”
Richards said the game will be much different, now that quiet users of the parks have been engaged in the debate.