Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Parks review could mean more hunting

Madison — State park superintendents gathered last week to pore over park maps that should – by Jan. 1, 2013 – delineate new hunting and trapping areas in all state parks and state trails.

A new law – Act 168 – passed earlier this year requires that all state parks and trails be open to hunting and trapping in all areas except for those set aside within the law, as well as those areas yet to be exempted by the Natural Resources Board based on safety concerns that come to light between now and New Year’s Day.

One state park “friends” group is circulating a petition to prevent further expansion of hunting, and the addition of trapping, in High Cliff State Park, a 1,187-acre state park on the northeast corner of Lake Winnebago near Sherwood.

Mapping efforts

Dan Schuller is the DNR’s Bureau of Parks and Recreation director. Schuller is tasked with implementing the new law in all of Wisconsin’s state parks and trails where expanded hunting and trapping makes sense.
In that light, Schuller asked all of the DNR’s state park superintendents to take a map of their state park and outline areas where they believe hunting and trapping could be allowed.

He met with park superintendents last week to review those maps and begin the process of opening more public land to hunting and trapping.

“The law is already in place. The Legislature gave the DNR time to develop implementation plans to start in January,” Schuller said.

The state has a little less than 150,000 acres within state parks and trails. There are 49 state parks, and several dozen state trails that also are considered state park properties. The new law applies to special categories of state parks, such as the North Country National Scenic Trail and the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. Another property designation – the Glacial Heritage Area in Jefferson County – is included.

“The majority of those parks offer some form of deer hunting. A number of parks also have spring turkey hunting, usually the first three seasons,” Schuller said. “The expansion here is probably more focused on waterfowl and small-game hunting, and trapping. Trapping has never been allowed in state parks.”

Most state park hunting access is limited to those who buy the required – and limited – access permits. Larger properties like Devils Lake State Park have been open for deer hunting for many years, but do not use the access permit system.

The new law does allow the DNR to close all “designated-use areas,” such as campgrounds, to hunting and trapping. The DNR may ban hunting and trapping in a 100-yard buffer strip beyond the designated-use area boundaries.

“That’s similar to the state law about not discharging firearms within 300 feet of a home. Any portion of the park beyond that, the DNR has to petition the NRB to close all or a portion of any park beyond those boundaries,” Schuller said.

He expects most non-designated areas to be opened for hunting and trapping. However, there may be some parks or trails that are closed completely because of their small size or proximity to urban areas.

“For instance, Lakeshore State Park is in downtown Milwaukee and we also have the Hank Aaron State Park Trail there. There is not much opportunity for hunting or trapping. The park is less than 20 acres. We would recommend that they be closed completely,” he said.

Schuller said the DNR will allow hunting and trapping in state parks wherever possible while also trying to provide the best state park experience possible for visitors who do not hunt or trap.

“We have 14.5 million visitors per year. We want to make sure we don’t turn off traditional users.”

Schuller did say regular park visitors who don’t hunt or trap will see some unexpected sights in state parks next year.

“There will be trails where hunters will be able to walk with guns to access hunting areas. It will be legal, but it will be different. A lot of people who are non-hunters are just becoming aware of the law. They’re wondering what’s going to happen,” he said.

Schuller said the DNR has fielded questions linked to the early fall, which is one of the most popular times to visit state parks.

He’s analyzing those questions and is looking at winter-use areas for skiing and snowshoeing. He said the DNR may recommend later start dates to hunting and trapping in some areas, but those delays would have to be approved by the NRB.

NRB member Jane Wiley is planning to host listening sessions around the state aimed at gathering public comment on proposed changes.

When asked if any state park superintendents have resisted the idea of expanding hunting and trapping, Schuller said all superintendents will work toward implementing the law.

“We’ve had hunting in parks for many, many years and we have done it well,” he said. “Personal opinions don’t come into play here.”

High Cliff

Firearms deer hunting has been allowed in High Cliff State Park since 2007, according to park superintendent Caroline Morgan. She said the hunting is limited to muzzleloading rifles, with 55 access permits allowed per year.

She said there initially were some safety concerns, but the hunt has proved to be safe.

The Friends of High Cliff State Park are circulating a petition the group will take to the December NRB meeting. The petition asks that the NRB ban hunting in that park.

Jon McElhaney is president of the group. He attempted to contact Wisconsin Outdoor News several times for an interview on the topic, but a connection could not be made by the print deadline for this issue.

The petition states, in part: The Friends of High Cliff State Park, Inc., a nonprofit corporation that raises money and procures volunteers to support High Cliff State Park, through its governing board, has recently adopted a resolution to strongly support the prohibition of hunting and trapping at High Cliff State Park. The overriding concern is human safety, but other reasons are stated in the resolution.

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