Hunters denied in Glacial area plan

Madison – The Natural Resources Board turned its back on
requests by hunting and trapping groups and approved a plan for the
Glacial Heritage Area in Jefferson County without changing the
concept of conservation parks to recreation areas to more easily
allow hunting and trapping.

The DNR recommended the plan for the new area, which has 35,700
acres of public land and calls for another 20,800 acres of wildlife
and natural areas, 3,801 acres of conservation parks, 1,344 acres
of linking trails, and 2,075 acres of river conservation areas. The
land would be acquired primarily with Knowles-Nelson Stewardship
funds.

The goals of the area, according to the DNR’s Steve Miller, are
to provide outdoor recreation, preserve wildlife and water
resources, complement protection of farmland, and work across
jurisdictions.

The location, Jefferson County, is between Milwaukee and
Madison, and within 100 miles of more than 10 million people.
Miller said there’s a need to buy recreational land close to where
people live.

The effort for wildlife and natural areas will include expanding
all 11 wildlife areas, including improved public access and hunting
and trapping, establishing a new Crawfish Prairie Habitat Area, and
establishing rural landscape protection areas.

The controversial part was the proposed conservation parks that
include expanding five parks and creating seven parks.

Miller said that portions of the parks where hunting does not
conflict with primary park users will be opened to limited hunting.
This is expected to be the nine-day gun deer, muzzleloader, late
bow deer, and spring turkey seasons.

However, state parks are closed to all trapping and closed to
hunting unless opened specifically.

The NRB heard from 11 citizens, all in favor of the plan.
However, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation Executive Director George
Meyer, a representative from the Wisconsin Trappers Association,
and Ed Harvey, chairman of the Conservation Congress, asked for the
conservation parks to be designated as recreation areas, where
hunting and trapping would be allowed.

Meyer said that changing the designation from conservation parks
to recreation areas would allow hunting and trapping. During 90
percent of the planning process, Meyer said, these areas were
designated as state recreation areas, but at the last minute they
were changed to conservation parks.

“The significance of that change, and maybe the reason for that
change, is that if the land were designated a recreation area and
purchased with Stewardship funds, that opens the area to hunting
and trapping, and if there would be … problems they could be
restricted or prohibited on an individual basis. But the ability to
make that decision is gone by their classification as a park,”
Meyer said. “It appears that may have been a reason for the
change.”

Harvey said the original proposal included the areas as
recreation areas and the new designation “appears to have no
purpose but to assure that hunting and trapping in those areas can
be closed or limited. Parks are closed to trapping outright, and to
hunting unless a process takes place to open some forms (of
hunting).

“We object to what appears to be (a) trend to buy large
properties as park properties. The issue is that 3,500 acres is a …
significant area. We should start with the premise that multiple
uses can be accommodated and go from there. We understand that when
an area is used by campers, hikers, and bikers certain hunting and
trapping activity may be restricted, but the DNR must lead by
example, and it is wrong to create exempt areas,” Harvey said.

Jefferson County Board chair Sharon Schmeling said the board
voted unanimously to support the plan.

When asked by the NRB about the county board’s support and
whether it depended on the designation of the conservation parks,
she indicated they supported the project, with “more recreation
land, more opportunities for hunting and access to natural
resources, but left it to the Natural Resources Board to decide
what is the best vehicle to do that.”

Miller said there was a lot of discussion over the designation,
and the conservation park designation was made because it best fits
the primary intent.

“There was no intent to deliberately preclude hunting or
trapping,” Miller said.

DNR Bureau of Wildlife Director Tom Hauge noted the influence of
the Madison and Milwaukee areas and said various recreational uses
are always a balance.

“I am very comfortable with the give and take that has taken
place here,” Hauge said, noting that more than 20,000 acres would
be purchased for additional wildlife areas.

Dan Schuler, DNR state parks director, backed the designation as
conservation parks to protect the land features and link
trails.

NRB member John Welter, of Eau Claire, took exception to the
change in designation.

“I’m concerned about the precedent,” Welter said. “I look at the
list of these conservation parks and some might lend themselves to
a particular use. It strikes me (that) we are trying to fit there
(differing) parcels into one legal designation. If we put it into a
different designation (recreation area) and if someone decided
there was a good reason to not allow an activity, they should go
through a determinative process. I think it would be wise for us to
put it under the recreation area designation, and if a restriction
is needed, then go through that restrictive process rather than
starting with this new animal of a conservation park.”

NRB member Preston Cole, of Milwaukee, asked the DNR about the
name “conservation park,” and said it put the entire project in
jeopardy. It established policy, he said, that should have come to
the board for approval.

NRB member Gary Rohde, of River Falls, said he wanted to know
the criteria that differentiates a conservation park from a
wildlife area or a state park and natural area.

DNR Secretary Matt Frank went to bat for the proposal and said
that he disagreed the DNR was going out of its way to limit
hunting. “We are already opening more land for public wildlife
areas and we need to open more hunting opportunities close to where
people live,” he said.

Welter had a second concern: If counties buy land with
Stewardship funds, they have to come up with half of the money and
then turn it over to the DNR to manage. But, if the DNR buys the
land with Stewardship money, it pays all of the cost and then turns
the land over to be managed by counties.

“Counties are going to … ask us to buy land and turn it over to
the county to manage. Did the Legislature intend for us to do
this?” Welter asked.

Welter made a motion to designate the conservation parks as
recreation areas. The motion died for lack of a second.

The motion to approve the plan was then approved 6-0. NRB chair
Christine Thomas did not attend the meeting and was not included on
the vote.

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