Argyle, Wis. – Wisconsin DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp made good Oct. 17 on her promise to reach out to local sportsmen’s clubs across the state to explain DNR positions and seek input on natural resources issues.
Stepp spoke at the annual banquet of the Green County Conservation League on a wide range of topics and interacted with the crowd during a question-and-answer session.
Club members seemed especially concerned about the recent scandal involving the Sporting Heritage Council plan to offer a $500,000 state grant to the United Sportsmen Foundation of Wisconsin, a grant that later was rescinded by Gov. Scott Walker.
“What will be done with the money?” one member asked.
“My hope is to sprinkle these funds among local organizations,” Stepp said, an idea that is gaining traction from a number of different directions.
Joe Caputo, a current member of the Sporting Heritage Council said he’d like to see the money spent at the local level.
“There are many great groups out there doing great work with very little in the way of financial backing,” Caputo said. “This type of funding could go a long way in forwarding their work.”
Mike Rogers, chair of the Conservation Congress Bear Committee, believes programs like Learn to Hunt and the hunter safety program could make the best use of the funds.
“I believe it would be a better use of the funds if it trickles down to the local level,” Rogers said. “That’s where we’re trying to get, right?”
Dale Maas, of Beaver Dam, agrees. “I would like to see more start-up money provided to local and regional groups that sponsor Learn to Hunt, Learn to Fish, and Learn to Trap programs,” he said. “This could be seed money to start the program.
“The department should have history on how many of these are run per year and may be able to set a base line for start-up funding,” Maas added.
Rick Olson, of Winter, suggested the Conservation Congress or another larger organization serve as a clearing house to handle much of the paperwork.
“It would be a big help to them if there was a larger organization to handle the grant paperwork, administration, and reporting so the real work gets done on the ground,” Olson said.
The Sporting Heritage Council has a vacancy since Andy Pantzlaff, of the United Sportsmen’s Foundation of Wisconsin, resigned in the wake of the mentoring grant fiasco. The Natural Resources Board was to have picked a replacement for Pantzlaff during its Oct. 23 meeting. That person is expected to come from the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association.
Stepp also provided a response to other questions.
On the Kroll report, she said: “We don’t want the report to gather dust on a shelf. The plan is going before the Natural Resources Board this month and will be going out to public hearings across the state.
We need your opinions. You’re the co-pilot with us.”
On a potential elk hunt: “We’re pretty close to the numbers where we can have a season,” Stepp said.
She expanded the discussion to a potential increase in the number and range of Wisconsin’s elk herd through a cooperative agreement with Kentucky. “They have different genetics. ‘Cross pollination’ might not be the best terminology, but you get the picture,” she said with chuckle.
“We’re hoping for an exchange of ruffed grouse for elk. We’re still trying to figure out how many grouse it takes to get one elk,” she said.
On Giggles, the deer that was forcibly removed from a Kenosha County property where it was kept in violation of state statutes, Stepp lamented the media buildup that led to the incident, which she said ended up going national and then international.
“Giggles became a public favorite,” she said. “When the facility was approached, they refused to give up the deer. As a result, the DNR and local authorities had to get a subpoena to pick up the deer. It’s not unusual to get other agencies involved, but that got turned into a Gestapo, brown shirt affair. There were death threats against the warden and her family. My own family was in lockdown at our home.”
In regard to the agency’s effort to work more closely with business interests across the state, Ron Buholzer, co-owner of Klondike Cheese, Inc., in Green County, told Stepp that he gives credit to the DNR for a more cooperative attitude during the permitting process than in the past. Buholzer said his company has expanded its operations over the years, bringing the company to $60 million in sales annually.
“We’ve spent $4 million in wastewater infrastructure in the last 10 years, and we’ve seen a difference in the way the DNR has worked with us,” Buholzer told Stepp. “They’re looking at individual situations and past performance.”
Klondike Cheese employs 155 people, he said.
Established in 1929, the Green County Conservation League is one of the oldest conservation groups in Wisconsin. The group has been instrumental in establishing a wide range of conservation projects and programs, many of which are a continuing part of the group’s agenda.
The organization sponsors an annual gun show, distributes trees each spring, and sponsors several area youths at outdoor camps each year. Youngsters of all ages lined up to tell their stories about summer camp, while thanking the league for giving them the opportunity to experience the outdoors.
More than 100 people attended the banquet, according to GCCL president Kim Christen, of Blanchardville.
“Secretary Stepp was very well received,” he said. “She’s got a great sense of humor, and we appreciate her coming down,” Christen said.