Sandhills, wolves, panfish highlight hearing agenda

Madison WisconsinMadison — Sandhill crane hunting, reduced panfish bag limits, a repeal of the early release season for largemouth bass in northwestern counties, and allowing coyote hunting during the gun deer season in northern Wisconsin are just three of more than 50 questions the Conservation Congress will ask sportsmen when the annual spring hearings convene the second Monday in April in every county.

This year, that date is April 9. All hearings will begin at 7 p.m. in each county. (Editor’s note: Please see page 12 in this issue for a second article reviewing spring hearing questions).

Earlier this year, Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, offered draft legislation that would allow the DNR to establish a sandhill crane-hunting season. That bill had not moved forward during the most recent legislative session. Conservation Congress chairman Rob Bohmann said the spring hearings will provide an opportunity for sportsmen to offer their opinion on the proposal. That vote will give Kleefisch and other legislators further guidance when the next session begins.
Bohmann noted that Minnesota already has a new crane season, albeit for a different population than the cranes in the Mississippi Flyway, and Kentucky is working on creating a sandhill hunt.

Some fishermen and some fish biologists believe that increasing numbers of largemouth bass are hurting walleye populations in northwestern counties, so the congress Warm Water Committee has placed a question on the agenda that will ask sportsmen if they favor eliminating the release season on largemouth bass – smallmouths would still be protected – in the area north of Hwy. 8 and west of Hwy. 13. Anglers would be allowed to keep largemouths starting the first Saturday in May.

The Warm Water Committee also has been hearing a lot of concern about high panfish harvests that some anglers believe is resulting in low panfish numbers, small panfish size, or a combination of both. The committee is offering a question that seeks sportsmen’s input on creating a panfish aggregate bag limit of 30 fish total per day on inland waters – not more than 10 crappies, 10 bluegills, and 20 yellow perch.

In a separate question, sportsmen will be asked if they support a 10-crappie daily bag limit on Oneida Lake in Oneida County. That question was submitted by Steve Oestreicher, the former congress chairman, who has watched crappie numbers spiral downward the past three years as winter fishing pressure, focused just on the lake’s crappies, increased sharply.

The congress Wolf Study Committee will ask sportsmen if they support allowing statewide coyote hunting during the gun deer season. Wolves were federally delisted on Jan. 27, but this question is not tied to federal delisting. With more than 1,000 wolves in the state, the committee and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation support the change, even if a future legal challenge to delisting were to put wolves back on the endangered species list.

A bill that would create a wolf season (hunting and trapping) has passed both houses and is on Gov. Scott Walker’s desk, awaiting his signature. The bill would allow wolf hunting and trapping during the gun deer season. As of press time for this issue, Walker had not signed the bill, or said yet if he supports it.

A second wolf question, if supported by sportsmen, the DNR, and eventually the Natural Resources Board, would require the DNR to notify the public of any wolf kills or attacks on livestock. Currently, those notifications are limited to wolf attacks on dogs.

A question from the congress Big Game Study Committee will ask if archers should apply for antlerless permits in quota units – just as gun hunters must now do. Archery tags used to allow for either-sex hunting on the initial license, but recently the archery license was changed to include two tags – a buck-only tag and an antlerless-only tag valid in any unit. The committee is wondering if archers should also apply for antlerless tags now, since a number of units are well below goal and antlerless tags in the “buck-plus-quota” units are limited.

Another bill, AB 384, also known as the “crossbow bill” or “lesser weapons” bill, has passed both houses and sits on the governor’s desk. The bill would allow the use of crossbows in all firearms seasons – small game, turkey, and bear, as examples. However, the bill does not allow the general use of crossbows during the archery deer season, nor does it lower the age limit for using crossbows during the archery deer season. Walker had not signed the bill as of press time for this issue, but he had indicated he favored the law change.

If he does sign the bill, that will occur before the April 9 spring hearings. The Conservation Congress does have a question, No. 24 on the agenda, that will ask – for a third time – if sportsmen support lowering the age restriction for using crossbows in the archery deer season from 65 to 55. The idea was supported by meeting goers the previous two times it was offered at the spring hearings.

Bohmann said he has been receiving pressure from some corners to remove the question from the spring hearing agenda because it’s expected that Walker will sign AB 384.

“The congress represents all people,” he said, noting that even if Walker signs the bill, there is nothing wrong with gathering more public opinion. He said the vote may be useful to legislators in the future.
Other questions include:

  • Allowing the use of rifles for deer hunting in all of Shawano County and north of Hwy. 54 in Outagamie County;
  • Creating public/private land antlerless deer tags in an effort to limit the number of landowners moving to public land to shoot antlerless deer;
  • Allowing bowhunting on the closed area of the Grand River Wildlife Area.
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