Legislators ask DNR to review overwinter goals for whitetails

Madison – Legislators have rejected the DNR’s proposal for an
increase in overwinter deer population goals in 13 units and have
asked the agency to come back with a proposal for broader goal
increases in much of the state.

Members of the Senate Natural Resources Committee and the
Assembly Fish and Wildlife Committee held a joint hearing at the
state capitol on Dec. 17 on proposed changes to overwinter
population goals and deer unit boundaries.

Those legislators reviewed possible goal increases in 13 units
and decreases in two units that had been approved earlier by the
Natural Resources Board last fall. But at the Dec. 17 joint
hearing, numerous hunting groups and hunters indicated their
displeasure over the 2009 deer season and the DNR’s deer population
estimate.

On Jan. 5, the Senate and Assembly committees met again in
executive session to take action. The Assembly committee
unanimously passed a motion to send the rule back to the DNR for
changes. The Senate committee could not vote on the rule because
its time had run out to review it, but it unanimously endorsed the
Assembly’s action.

Rep. Ann Hraychuck, D-Balsam Lake, chair of the Assembly
committee, said the two committee chairs had met earlier in the day
with DNR Secretary Matt Frank to discuss the problems.

“We are sending the rule back to the DNR for unspecified
modifications,” Hraychuck said. “We hope to come up with a
compromise.”

Sen. Jim Holperin, D-Conover, chair of the Senate committee,
said that at the hearing on Dec. 17 there were a lot of
disappointed hunters who voiced their displeasure, and the issue
needed more scrutiny.

“This rule is very limited, but we would like for the DNR to
tell us how they intend to deal with deer population issues,”
Holperin said. “Many hunters are calling into question the DNR’s
deer population estimates, feeling they were led to believe there
were more deer out there.”

Rep. Scott Gunderson, R-Waterford, said DNR deer numbers are
flawed and he wants the DNR to indicate what deer seasons will look
like in 2010 and the future.

The two committees then sent a letter to Frank stressing that
the Dec. 17 hearing resulted in several questions about the DNR
pre-hunt population estimate, and suggestions the Sex-Age-Kill
model needed improvement.

“Testimony also focused on the current method of defining deer
range, the effects of predation and other causes of fawn survival,
the need for consistent and predictable seasons, as well as other
topics,” the letter stated.

The letter also commended the DNR for making significant changes
in its deer policies over the last year in response to public
input, but said that much more remains to be done.

The DNR responded to the letter Jan. 6, indicating that it will
consider modifications; those changes are expected to include more
increases in overwinter goals, by unit, if they are to receive
legislative support. Any DNR modifications will have to go to the
Natural Resources Board for approval.

Public hearings

Following the joint session by the committees, the Assembly Fish
and Wildlife Committee held a public hearing on two bills – AB 577
and AB 548.

AB 577, introduced by Rep. Joan Ballweg, R-Markesan, would allow
the DNR to sell a one-day fishing license.

“The purpose of this bill is to entice the casual angler or the
first-time angler who wants to give fishing a try,” Ballweg said.
“For avid anglers, an annual license is still going to be the best
deal, but this bill would allow that individual to introduce a
friend or co-worker to fishing, without that person buying a
year-long license before trying the sport.”

Both Ballweg and Gunderson gave examples of people visiting
sport shops and checking out with bait and equipment but then
finding out that they needed a fishing license, only to abandon the
purchase. Nonresidents, in particular, only have the choice of a
four-day, 15-day, or annual fishing license.

Ballweg said she would like to see a person also be able to
apply the cost of a one-day license to an annual license.

The DNR did not take a position on the bill.

AB 548, introduced by Hraychuck, would allow a person who has
accidentally killed a bear, turkey, or other small-game animal
while operating a vehicle on a highway to take possession of the
carcass.

“Current law only allows a person who hits a deer while
operating a vehicle on a highway to take possession of the
carcass,” Hraychuck said. “The person who hit the deer and wishes
to keep the carcass must report it to law enforcement and then is
issued a tag at no cost. This bill expands the law.”

Hraychuck said the change would lessen the workload for
conservation wardens, who are expected to respond and recover the
carcass. It also would make roadsides cleaner.

The bill is supported by the DNR. Conservation Warden Tom Van
Haren noted that the bill would apply to many species of small
game, including raccoons and squirrels, but it does not apply to
bobcats, fishers, or otters.

Bobcats, fishers, and otters “are highly valuable special-permit
species that the DNR monitors the harvest of very closely,” Van
Haren said. The DNR normally collects the carcasses of these three
animals when killed accidentally and uses them in trapper education
classes. Those that are sold provide funds for the trapper
education program.

The committee did not vote on the two bills, but will take them
up later in executive session.

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