Madison — If the Natural Resources Board accepts a DNR recommendation in December, sportsmen could begin hunting and trapping in state parks Jan. 1, 2013, with some limitations and exceptions.
The DNR will propose that, in general, hunting and trapping be allowed in state parks each year from Oct. 15 through the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend.
This move comes as a result of a new state law – Act 168 – passed earlier this year that requires that all state parks and trails be open to hunting and trapping in all areas except for those set aside within the new law, such as campgrounds, beaches, and picnic areas, and any areas yet to be exempted by the NRB based on safety concerns that come to light between now and the NRB’s Dec. 11-12 meeting.
According to DNR State Park Director Dan Schuller, the DNR also will recommend that four small state parks continue to be closed to hunting and trapping: Lost Dauphin in De Pere, Copper Culture in Oconto County, Heritage Hill in Green Bay, and Lakeshore in Milwaukee.
Schuller will recommend exceptions for three other parks – Wildcat, Peninsula, and High Cliff. In parts of Wildcat and Peninsula and all of High Cliff, hunting would begin Nov. 15 and continue through the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend.
Wildcat’s horse use area and Peninsula’s Eagle Bluff area would open to hunting and trapping Nov. 15. All other areas of both parks would open Oct. 15. Wildcat is in Vernon County; Peninsula is in Door County.
All of High Cliff State Park, off the northeast tip of Lake Winnebago near Sherwood, would be off-limits to hunters and trappers until Nov. 15, based on the DNR’s plan. Schuller said there also are “horse considerations” at High Cliff.
“All other parks will be open from Oct. 15 and close the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend,” he said.
NRB member Jane Wiley, of Rib Mountain, suggested a series of listening sessions that would allow citizens to comment on the proposed changes to state park and trail use.
NRB Chairman Dave Clausen said the listening sessions are being held to get input on how to implement the law, not the law itself, which the Legislature approved last session and Gov. Scott Walker signed in April.
Act 168, also known as the Sporting Heritage Bill, goes into effect Jan. 1, 2013. While the law requires the DNR to allow hunting and trapping on all state park property, it also provides leeway so the DNR may prohibit hunting and trapping within 100 yards of a “designated use area.” In addition, the NRB may close more areas to hunting and trapping to “protect public safety or unique natural resources such as fragile plant or animal habitat.”
It’s the latter category where NRB members expect to field public comments.
Two or three NRB members will attend each listening session, then take those comments to their Dec. 11-12 meeting.
Maps showing where hunting and trapping will be allowed at each state park may be viewed on the DNR’s website, http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/. Maps also will be displayed at the listening sessions, which begin at 6:30 p.m. on the following dates and locations (some subscribers will receive this issue on Oct. 29, even though it is dated for Nov. 2):
• Oct. 29: Fitchburg, Quality Inn and Suites, 2969 Cahill Main;
• Oct. 30: Eau Claire, Chippewa Valley Technical College, 620 Clairemont Ave.;
• Nov. 5: Merrill, Merrill High School, 1201 North Sales St.;
• Nov. 8: Appleton, The Bordini Center, Fox Valley Technical College Campus, 5 Systems Drive;
• Nov. 13: West Allis, Tommy Thompson Youth Center, State Fair Park, 640 South 84th St.
Citizens may submit written comments by mail to: Wisconsin State Parks, Act 168, Box 7921, Madison, WI, 53707-7921; or electronically by e-mailing to DNRWisconsinParks@wisconsin.gov
Written comments are due to the DNR by Nov. 23.
Schuller expects the Oct. 15 through late May window, along with the exceptions listed above, to meet most of the needs of all state park visitors.
“We picked Oct. 15 because it’s past the fall color peak, but it will still allow small-game hunting. And, most trapping seasons start later than Oct. 15, so it shouldn’t affect trappers at all,” he said.
“Three years out of 10, the sixth season of turkey hunting overlaps the holiday weekend. So, three years out of 10, state park hunters could hunt in the parks the first two days.”
However, now that hunting and trapping will expand to all state parks, Schuller said the DNR will do away with state park units by 2014. That means anyone who has been hunting in state parks will be able to use their tags in the surrounding turkey zone. And, vice versa.
“That’s our proposal, but people are already applying for state park permits now. If people have a state park permit for turkeys, it will be honored, or they can go anywhere in the zone. Or, if they have a permit in that zone, they may enter the park. By 2014, we won’t have anymore park zones,” he said.
In several cases, the DNR will not close state park trails to hunting. Those trails are so close together that if the DNR closed the area 100 yards on either side of the trails, it would either close the whole area, or leave only limited areas open to hunting that would be difficult to designate.
“It would be very confusing for the public to know what’s open and what’s not,” he said.
On state trails, any area that had been closed in the past will continue to be closed, along with 100 yards on either side of the trail. Some portions of state trails adjacent to state wildlife areas have been open to hunting in the past, and will remain open.
If a trail includes state-owned land beyond the 100-yard mark from the trail bed, that land will be open to hunting and trapping. Schuller mentioned Military Ridge as an example of a trail that will have areas that will be open. He said there also are five or six other trails in that category.
There are two national trails where the state owns some land. The state owns about 60 parcels along the Ice Age Trail where it’s not developed. Those parcels will be open.
“Where a trail is developed, we will close the trail and 100 yards on either side. The rest would be open,” Schuller said.
He said the state has only small ownership in The North Country Trail, which runs mostly through county or national forests.
“Those areas are open. Our recommendation is to close just the trail itself without the buffer on the state-owned portions. We won’t regulate anything on national, county, or private lands.”
State parks typically have been open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., with exceptions for fishermen if they come in before 11 p.m.
The DNR will recommend entry hours one hour before the opening of shooting hours that day, with an 11 p.m. closure, Trapping opens at 4 a.m. each day, so trappers could come in at 3 a.m.
For seasons that do not have any hours, such as coon and coyotes, the DNR is recommending a start of one hour before sunrise and an 11 p.m. close.
All state park areas will be open to trapping, with one exception.
“We will ask that trappers stay more than 100 yards away from any designated trail. People will still use trails. We just want to make sure there is no conflict between traps near the trail and hikers using the trail.
“We’re also going to inform the NRB that we would like to close boat launch areas, fishing pier areas, and beaches from bowfishing and spear fishing,” he said. “We hope to have found some common ground here. We value all outdoor recreation.”
Schuller does not expect the change to create much in the way of new costs for the DNR.
“The only additional cost will be a signing effort at some properties to make sure people have the correct information. We already have deer seasons, so we do routine patrols. I don’t see a lot of additional costs,” he said.