Resources board adopts DNR fish and wildlife rule changes

Madison — The Natural Resources Board approved fish and wildlife rule changes proposed by the DNR, and those changes – including statewide rifle deer hunting and new largemouth bass possession rules in the north – must now pass the Legislature’s review.

Fish rules

Some of the statewide fisheries rule changes offered by the DNR were aimed at trying to simplify fishing regulations.

Mike Staggs, DNR director of fisheries, said the DNR wasn’t totally successful with the effort, “because it isn’t simple to simplify.”

One question that raised concern and discussion was opening motor trolling statewide. That proposal lost statewide in a popular vote at the April 8 spring hearings, but was supported in more counties than not. The statewide vote was 2,391 in favor of trolling and 2,775 against. When looking at vote totals by county, voters in 44 counties supported trolling, 27 counties opposed it, and there was a tie vote in one county.

Staggs told NRB members that last year the Conservation Congress offered statewide trolling as an advisory question and it did pass. Staggs didn’t offer the numbers, but the vote was 1,928 to 1,576 for congress question No. 75 in 2012. What Staggs didn’t tell the NRB was that the DNR also offered three proposed rule changes for trolling in 2012 for one-, two-, and three-line trolling, and each one failed. The overall number of sportsmen voting on the three DNR questions was higher than for the congress question because all DNR-proposed rule changes are offered earlier in the evening.

Staggs told the NRB the DNR found no research results that show trolling should not be allowed. (See a news article on the discussion of this question on Page 4 of the May 31 issue.)

Some of the other fish rule changes that were approved at the spring hearings and forwarded to the NRB by the DNR included changing sturgeon-spearing hours on the Lake Winnebago system, having the Northern Bass Zone catch-and-release season only apply to smallmouth bass (largemouths may be kept beginning in 2014), and making protected slot limit regulations permanent on walleyes, sauger, and hybrids on the Wisconsin River.

One question that would require nontoxic sinkers and jigheads on research lakes in Vilas County – Escanaba, Nebish, and Pallette – was approved at spring hearings in the popular vote, but lost in the number of counties supporting it.

Staggs summarized the American Sport Fishing Association position that although specific waterfowl die from ingesting lead sinkers, it is not enough to affect the overall bird population.

The DNR included this question for the board’s consideration because the three lakes are part of the five-lake Northern  Highland Fishery Research Area. NRB member Christine Thomas said she supported it because, “It is a small step in the right direction. We’re conservationists, and the largest effect of loon mortality in our state is from this. It is a small thing to use alternative sinkers.”

Another proposal involved Park Lake in Columbia County, which has an overpopulation of shad. The proposal was to increase the number of predator fish. At the public hearings, it received a tie vote.

Staggs said the DNR changed a question that dealt with a daily limit of five bass and a daily limit of three walleyes and sauger with an 18-inch length on Big Chetac Lake in Sawyer County. The question originally dealt with just Big Chetac Lake, but it was pointed out the lake was connected to Birch Lake, and the rule should apply to both. The DNR added Birch Lake.

The board approved all of these fisheries rule changes.

Wildlife rules

The statewide wildlife rule changes included a proposal to allow the use of rifles for deer hunting statewide.

Scott Loomans, DNR wildlife regulations specialist, said the total vote from the spring hearings was supportive – 3,007 in favor and 2,171 against.

“We’ve had two counties in every rule cycle come to us saying they want to switch to rifles and also the push for regulation simplification comes up regularly and this is a fairly significant step toward rule simplification,” Loomans said.

The board approved the rule, which the DNR hopes can be in effect by November, depending on legislative review.

The DNR also will increase the daily pheasant-hunting fee at Bong State Recreation Area in Kenosha County from $3 to $12 (but only $5 if stocking of pheasants did not occur that day). It also will create a $7 fee for hunters ages 17 and younger.

The DNR also proposed simplifying mink- and muskrat-trapping regulations by creating more consistent (the third Saturday in October) opening dates

NRB member Gary Zimmer amended the proposal, saying that fur quality would not be good at this time, especially as fall weather is mild longer. His amendment passed, so the season goes back to what it has been, but the board encouraged the DNR to talk with stakeholders to come up with another attempt at simplification.

The DNR did not recommend moving forward with allowing overnight placement of portable deer stands or blinds on DNR lands. This was largely because the popular vote failed, with 2,262 people in favor and 2,939 against. Loomans said the question was a popular topic of discussion at public hearings.

NRB member Terry Hilgenberg said he had some angst about not allowing older hunters to place stands on state land, and it garnered almost no discussion at the meeting he attended. He asked the DNR to give some thought to allowing stands on a trial basis on state land north of a certain boundary.

Public comment

When the public was allowed to comment on the rule proposals, Conservation Congress chairman Rob Bohmann recommended passing all but one of the DNR questions for advancement, that being placement of treestands on DNR property overnight, which lost in the county vote.

He noted that the congress supported the NRB advisory question relating to the full inclusion of crossbows in the archery season, and rejected restrictions on hunting wolves with dogs. These were advisory questions by the board and are not proposals at this time.

Adam Kassulke, of Madison, represented a student group called Wisconsin Wolf Front. He said the group opposes the use of dogs when wolf hunting.

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