Stewardship rule now suits conservationists

Madison – Conservation groups displeased with the Stewardship
program public access rule approved earlier this year by the
Natural Resources Board didn’t expect to have much success in
seeking changes to the rule within the Legislature, but last week a
Senate committee and land trust groups agreed to 12 changes that
should ensure access for sportsmen to lands bought with Stewardship
funds.

Those changes must now be approved by the DNR.

“We did not give up anything at all,” said Wisconsin Wildlife
Federation Executive Director George Meyer. “The only incomplete
item is the public trust issue and that was because we ran out of
time to meet the Senate Environment Committee jurisdictional
deadline. That was resolved by an agreement to have the committee
direct the DNR to work with us to resolve that issue.”

Meyer, Wisconsin Waterfowl Association spokesman Jeff Nania,
Hunters Rights Coalition lobbyist Bob Welch, and citizens Sandy
Heidel and Larry Bonde beat on legislators’ doors and desks for
three weeks, but didn’t expect to get the attention needed to force
what they saw as necessary changes to the rule.

The conservation contingent gained ground during an Assembly
Natural Resources Committee hearing, where chairman Rep. Spencer
Black, D-Madison, agreed that many of the issues brought forward
had merit.

Nania said that at the end of that day, Black contacted Sen.
Mark Miller, D-Madison, to see if Miller would allow the opposing
groups to work out compromises. If Miller had not agreed to that,
Black was prepared to send the rule back to the DNR, Nania
said.

Those compromises were worked out on March 29 at The Nature
Conservancy office in Madison, then went to Miller for an executive
session on April 1. The committee voted 5-0 in favor of the 12
changes.

Afterward, Miller said he doesn’t anticipate any problems in
moving forward with the changes.

“The parties that were on the different sides … have
agreed.”

Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, who wants Stewardship lands to be
open to sportsmen, said both sides are satisfied. He doesn’t think
the DNR will make any changes.

“I don’t think so, not after the 5 to 0 vote,” Kedzie said.
“We’ve got kind of a wide spectrum of political ideology
represented on that committee – from quite liberal to quite
conservative – and I really don’t see (a push for changes to the
recommendation) happening.

“Stewardship has mixed support among legislators,” he said. “Not
everyone embraces the concept … but one thing that a large portion
of them do agree with is that if it’s public land, adhere to the
word ‘public.’ “

If the rule is changed by the DNR or NRB, Miller can let it go,
or suspend the rule and try to save it by calling another executive
session. If the DNR were to modify the rule, Miller would have 10
days to review what the DNR has submitted. Miller would then have
to decide whether the rule satisfies what the conservation groups
and land trusts were trying to accomplish.

Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, said he doesn’t want to lose
sportsmen’s support for the Stewardship program. He said that right
now “sports groups support it and if they get ticked off, and are
no longer on the same page, that decreases the chance of another
Stewardship bill being passed into law.”

The Stewardship program was recently renewed for 10 years.

According to Meyer, Olsen was key in the outcome of the April 1
executive session. Olson continually prodded Miller to keep the
issue on his front burner.

As of April 8, the DNR had yet to respond to Miller.

“We’re still waiting for the DNR … I’m assuming the secretary’s
office is talking to the Natural Resources Board, and they should
do that,” Meyer said.

Wisconsin Outdoor News e-mailed NRB chairman Jonathan Ela early
last week, but had not received a response from him as of press
time late last week.

DNR Deputy Secretary Pat Henderson was non-committal in his
responses to Wisconsin Outdoor News questions following the April 1
session. He said the DNR would take a look at the changes.

Earlier in the hearing process, Henderson became upset and
challenged conservation group members, but Nania said that when it
came to working out changes to the rule, the land trusts and
conservation groups had no trouble talking with each other.

Meyer agreed.

“We were able to resolve all of the issues,” Meyer said. “One
observation I had in the negotiations was that six or seven of
those issues we got done in an hour. The_structure imposed on us by
the DNR (during the stakeholder meetings) prevented us from
reaching agreement – having 28 groups at the table and requiring
consensus? There’s no way you’re going to get to the meat of the
issue.”

Henderson played a key role in forming that stakeholder group
and setting up the ground rules.

As for the latest changes to the rule, Nania said that although
the conservation groups didn’t give up any ground, the updates came
as compromise, not capitulation.

“I would say it was a compromise – the honest truth is that
everyone came together realizing that the Stewardship program is
really a conservation program and was intended to be for all of the
people of Wisconsin,” Nania said. “Some of things that happened
during the interim protocol – things that limited people who hunt,
fish and trap – that went out the window.

“Mike Carlson, who has taken over as the new head of Gathering
Waters, came to the table and really wanted to work these things
out. Unlike his predecessor, Mike is a hunter and angler, and he
saw the importance of this program,” Nania said.

“Are there people who are still unhappy about this? Yes, but I
hope that those people will find that this is the only way this
program can work. The pictures painted of people hunting behind
swing sets on playgrounds – that kind of rhetoric has no place in
this discussion,” he said .

Nania and Meyer said one important change is the fact that the
NRB will now be more involved in the grant process if there are
unresolved objections.

“That creates transparency,” Meyer said. “In some of these past
decisions, if the DNR had to try to stand up and defend their
position, they would have been embarrassed. Transparency solves a
lot of problems.”

“The idea that hunting, fishing, and trapping are now defined
within this rule … that’s important,” Nania said.

They also both agreed that resolving issues over the Public
Trust Doctrine was the second or third most important change
included in the updated rule.

Editor Dean Bortz contributed to this report.

Categories: News Archive

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *