WI: Hunters reject three-zone proposal for ducks
Madison – The 2011 annual DNR and Conservation Congress spring hearings yielded a number of surprises, not the least of which was the rejection of a three-zone waterfowl proposal.
Some spring hearing watchers also were surprised that attendance was up about 28 percent statewide from last year – 5,575 in 2011, compared with 4,360 in 2010. The increase might relate to increased publicity this year or because more people are learning about the work of the Conservation Congress and the many sportsmen's groups around the state.
A survey taken at the annual Wisconsin Deer and Turkey Expo showed that about 90 percent of those who participated in the survey were either "very familiar" and "somewhat familiar" with the role of the Congress. A similar percentage reported that they are aware of the spring hearings held each year on the second Monday in April.
Some suggest the increased public involvement may have been due to the "crossbow in bow season" issue, which has caused division within the hunting community.
"I think it was possibly due to the crossbow," said Rob Bohmann, Congress vice chairman. "We had about 50 people last year (in Racine County); this year we had more than 90."
Other issues on the minds of voters included questions 42-44 regarding the creation of a third duck-hunting zone. Voters rejected the proposed change, opting instead to leave the zone structure as it is.
The result left some sportsmen and women along the Mississippi River corridor shaking their heads. Ray Heidel, of Onalaska in La Crosse County, has been a strong advocate for three duck zones. He sent a flurry of e-mails and other correspondence to hunters around the state in advance of the hearings hoping to engender support for the proposal.
Heidel acknowledges that offering three options to voters may have complicated things.
"It was a little too much," he said. "I don't think people understood what we were asking."
He also reiterated that the purpose of the change relates to those years when the season is unduly short. "It wasn't that we wanted to just hunt longer, like some people claimed," he said.
Heidel said the positive results in five of eight Mississippi-area counties, as well as two along Lake Michigan, was a good sign, however. "It shows that people who hunt those waters are for it."
The crossbow issue caused the biggest uproar, however, beginning with an earlier Big Game Committee meeting when members voted by an 8-7 margin to put the measure on the ballot. Ron Kulas, legislative liaison for the Wisconsin Bowhunters Association, wasn't surprised that voters rejected the legalization of crossbows for the entire archery season.
"Hunters just don't support it," he said. "This is the fourth time in seven years it's been brought up, and it gets voted down every time."
Kulas also discounts assertions that bowhunters over the age of 50 are leaving the sport. "If you look at the DNR numbers from the bowhunters survey (in 2005), the largest group was in the 46 to 65 age bracket," he said.
Ken Anderson, president of the fledgling Wisconsin Crossbow Hunters, is an advocate for the use of crossbows and a frequent critic of WBA. "It's a sad day when you have an active group of bowhunters who oppose additional hunting activities for other deer hunters," he said. "It's a personal choice; if you don't want to use a crossbow, don't use one."
Anderson is not dismayed by the result, however. He takes heart in the fact that the resolution passed in both Vilas and Oneida counties, where a member of the Joint Finance Committee resides.
"It will take action by the Legislature to get this through," he said. "We'll be asking Rep. Dan Meyer, R-Eagle River, to help."
Regarding Question No. 41, which would lower the age restriction for crossbow use to 55, Anderson believes voters viewed it as compromise. "Hunters want more opportunities," he said.
Kulas disagrees that it was a compromise. "It's a matter of demographics," he said. "By looking around at the people at our location (Waukesha County), the median age was probably 60," he said "There were very few people under the age of 30."
Mark Noll, co-chair of the WCC Big Game Committee, agrees that age is a factor. "People get to a certain age, and they just quit for whatever reason," he said. "But I don't think they want kids using crossbows," he added.
In other matters, the public voted to:
• End deer feeding and baiting 10 days before the gun deer season opens;
• Oppose the use of non-toxic shot on DNR lands;
• Allow landowners to shoot attacking cougars;
• Set a 40-inch muskie size limit on most state waters;
• Set a wolf population goal of 350 animals or less;
• Allow archery deer hunting during the gun deer season;
• Involve the Conservation Congress in all relevant legislative matters;
• Establish a free winter fishing weekend;
• Increase the archery license fee by $1 to support the National Archery in the Schools program;
• Oppose raccoon hunting during the gun deer season;
• Allow the use of rifles statewide for deer hunting;
• Allow unattended duck decoys on private lands; and;
• Manage largemouth and smallmouth bass as separate species.