New CC committee to tackle land-access issue

By Tim Eisele Correspondent

Stevens Point, Wis. — The Conservation Congress has study
committees on big game, small game, cold-water fisheries, turkeys,
and many more.

They are all important, but which is the most important?

Randy Stark, DNR chief conservation warden, thinks the newest
committee just might be the most important. That’s the
Public/Private Land Use Study Committee, which is chaired by Jerry
Aulik, of Deer Brook in Langlade County.

The committee was created in 2005, and met in October of last
year and this year.

Its mission is to look for ways to increase access to private
land, explore recreational landowner responsibilities to help
control deer numbers, and examine public attitudes about private
land access.

Stark gave a presentation to the committee this past October
about the future of hunting in the state, during which he said,
“The work of this committee could be one of the most important to
the future of hunting.”

He said there are four requirements for hunting: adequate
wildlife; hunters; public acceptance of hunting; and places to
hunt. The last is what the committee will study.

“Our conservation wardens report that land-use issues are
creating problems in many parts of Wisconsin, especially as the
landscape is becoming more parcelized,” Stark said.

Land is being subdivided, and many new landowners don’t have a
hunting background, making it harder for hunters to gain access to
private land. There is more urban sprawl, causing conflict when
some homeowners ask why people are hunting in a neighboring field.
For many farmers, their “retirement plan” is to sell their land,
resulting in houses being built on what once was fields and
woodlands.

Some timber companies that used to open their industrial forests
to hunters are selling off the land or closing the land and
charging high fees for exclusive hunting leases.

There are more absentee landowners, making it more difficult for
hunters to find the landowner to ask permission to hunt. In some
areas, leases involving guided hunting for trophy deer are tying up
large blocks of land and preventing locals from hunting land they
once did.

People get pushed onto public lands, which get more crowded.

The increased fragmentation may create issues in the future for
bio-diversity, access for forestry work, and the effects on water
quality.

A recent survey showed there were three reasons for why people
no longer hunt, including the parcelization of land, competition
for time; one-third of the respondents had no place to hunt.

“This is a huge issue, and will have a tremendous influence on
the future of hunting,” Stark said.

The human population is increasing, getting older, more
urbanized and more diverse. People who are age 65 and older will be
16 percent of the population by 2020, and it is the younger
population (in their 30s and 40s) who buy the bulk of the
deer-hunting licenses that provide funds to support the work of the
DNR.

There likely will be a smaller percentage of hunters in the
population (currently 44 percent of the students in the Madison
school system are minorities) and it is these people who provide
political support for conservation programs such as the
Conservation Reserve Program, and who have been the leaders of
conservation clubs and fish and wildlife groups.

Stark said that all of these trends show a need for
reauthorization of Wisconsin’s Stewardship Fund, which provides the
money for the state to buy state park, forest, wildlife, and
fisheries lands. Other incentives have to be examined to get
private landowners to open their lands, one of which could be an
“Open Fields” proposal being considered by the U.S. Congress. Other
states, such as Kansas, North Dakota, and Montana, have come up
with programs that open land to hunting and retain and recruit new
hunters.

“This is a very important issue, and we need to work together
for the future of hunting,” he said.

Stark said that according to U.S. Department of Agriculture farm
census information, 29 percent of state dairy farms went out of
business between 1997 and 2002. As farmers go out of business, they
often sell the land for subdivisions, or it is fragmented into
smaller parcels.

One concern of DNR wildlife biologists and the Conservation
Congress is getting enough deer harvested on private land.

The general thought is that public land is heavily hunted, as
are many private lands. However, some private land can become deer
refuges during the hunting season.

Last year the DNR sent a questionnaire to a random group of
10,000 gun deer hunters, and learned that 71 percent of the 3,147
respondents said they hunted on private land. In addition, the
survey indicated that 6.3 percent of those hunting private land had
paid for access. Fifty-eight percent of the responding hunters
thought deer densities were higher on private lands.

The 2006 deer season is the first year that the DNR has added a
question about public and private land on the orange harvest
registration tag that’s filled out by every hunter who shoots and
registers a deer. The question asks whether the deer was harvested
on land open to public hunting or closed to public hunting. Early
registration stubs from the 2006 archery season indicate that 81
percent of the deer were killed on private land.

One theory – which may have led to the demise of an October Zone
T gun deer season this year – is that private landowners don’t want
hunters on their land before or during the regular gun season for
fear of disturbing bucks. But after the regular gun deer season,
landowners are more willing to allow others to hunt for antlerless
deer.

Mark Noll, a member of the committee from Buffalo County, said
at the committee’s Oct. 20 meeting in Stevens Point that he
believes land in his area is closed to public access in order to
protect bucks.

“If deer came down with a disease that would cause them to not
grow horns, we would not have a deer problem any longer,” he
said.

Noll noted that a recent sale in Buffalo County saw 220 acres
going for over $1 million.

“We are still in the ground-breaking stages of finding ways for
the public to gain access to private lands, and determining if
public land is utilized the way it should be, or whether there are
too many restrictions for access to it,” Aulik said.

Aulik admits to being “up in the air” about private land,
realizing that people who buy land for $3,000 an acre for hunting
don’t necessarily want to have other people hunting at the same
time.

“One of the big things is that a lot of people are teed off
because of trespass problems,” Aulik said. “It is up to the
individual hunter to be aware of good landowner relationships and
then maybe that landowner will let him on the land. Maybe there is
some way to give a landowner an incentive, such as tags he didn’t
have to pay for, that will help to get people on the land.”

Aulik said there might be a way of giving landowners deer tags
they can either use or sell to hunters to use on the land.

One concern about public land is that people can’t get far
enough in because they are kept back by gates across roads.

Committee members decided to recommend several questions for the
Conservation Congress Executive Council to consider for the 2007
spring hearings. One will ask if people favor giving incentives to
private landowners who allow hunters on their land to shoot
antlerless deer. The incentive could be in the form of extra tags,
or if the landowner had 10 antlerless deer killed on the property
he could kill an extra buck, or other incentives.

The committee also is asking the Conservation Congress Executive
Council to consider adding a question asking if the state should
more closely regulate outfitters. There is a concern that
outfitters are tying up large blocks of land.

“There is a lot of cash changing hands with outfitters, and they
are basically selling bucks and local hunters no longer have access
to the land and are quitting hunting,” Noll said. “Some people used
to be able to hunt by cutting firewood for farmers, but now the
farmers get thousands of dollars for leases and local people can no
longer hunt there.”

The committee also:

  • Heard a report from Scott Hull, DNR farm bill coordinator and
    upland ecologist, who said the current Farm Bill expires in 2007.
    The bill provides many conservation benefits, including nesting
    habitat for wildlife, and the Iowa Farm Bureau already has asked
    for the elimination of CRP.
  • The committee asked about smaller tracts of land having an
    influence on use of bear dogs, but was told there was no increase
    in the number of problems this year.
  • This December, the special antlerless hunt will be open in
    northern counties and officials will be interested to see if
    private land will be open to hunters. There also was discussion
    about whether this season should be open for more than just four
    days.
  • The committee discussed the use of ATVs on public land,
    expressing concerns about damage to natural resources.

“My own thought is that people should be able to walk,” Aulik
said. “I don’t think that everyone has to have access by motor
vehicle. I am against motor vehicles on public land, especially
ATVs that do much damage. I think we are sacrificing our natural
resources for dollars.”

The committee includes Aulik, Noll, Larrie Hazen, Paul
Gettelman, Martin Haas, Alan Harrison, Allen Jacobson, Matt
Jacowski, Robert Lobermeier, Dave Nowak, and Patrick Paulik.

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