Council likes mentor grant idea

Madison — The Sporting Heritage Council had a productive meeting Jan. 9, with all members in attendance to learn about an innovative new grant program proposed by the DNR to recruit and retain hunters.
The agency’s new Hunter Recruitment, Development, Training and Education Grant Program will provide cost-sharing grants up to $10,000 to clubs, groups, communities, governments, tribes, and colleges to provide education and development of ethical hunters.
Unlike the $500,000 state grant to United Sportsmen of Wisconsin Foundation, Inc., which was included in the state budget and then cancelled by the governor, this DNR grant will be funded with federal money. It also will be available to many state groups, not just one, and those groups may be chapters of national conservation organizations.
Keith Warnke, DNR hunting and shooting sports coordinator, said the funding comes from the $17 million the DNR receives as its share of federal excise taxes from the sale of firearms and ammunition. The funding source is the federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Program, commonly known as the Pittman-Robertson program in honor of its congressional sponsors, and provides funds for wildlife management, research, access, and other hunting-related activities in every state.
“We are proposing to provide $200,000 in grants every biennium, during the even-numbered years, with a maximum up to $10,000 for any (group),” Warnke said. “On the odd-numbered years, we will accept proposals for our shooting range program.”
Since the funds come from arms and ammo sales, the grants may not be used for angling or trapping programs. Instead, cost-sharing grants will be for small pilot proposals to train and recruit hunters, and to develop hunter recruiting and retaining ideas.
The DNR is looking for novel pilot projects with good strategies and positive results.
The successful Learn to Hunt program will qualify for grants to reimburse clubs and groups for their costs, but for no more than 30 percent of the total cost. Some people believe LTH programs are one-time introductions often used for young people who would become hunters anyway, rather than bringing in new people.
Warnke said the DNR is shifting its focus to adults, females, and families in response to its research findings.
“By focusing on adults … you have people with a strong interest, money, authority to hunt, a car, and they often have kids who they’ll bring along into hunting once they learn,” Warnke said.
Other features of the grant are:
• The top reimbursement for each LTH event is $500;
• A local share of 25 percent of the project cost must come from sources other than the grant and cannot include federal funds;
• Some costs that can be covered include salaries, consultant services, purchased services, supplies, equipment, rentals, etc.;
• The grant is run as a reimbursement program. Groups must incur and pay all costs before seeking reimbursement.
This proposal went onto the DNR website Jan. 10. People have 21 days to comment. Go to http://dnr.wi.gov/news/input/Guidance.html to provide comments.
In order to get the proposal off of the ground this year, applications will be available by March 3. The DNR would issue grant agreements by Oct. 1. In future even-numbered years, materials would be available by Aug. 15 and agreements issued by March 1 of the following year.
State grant status
The council liked the idea of the grant, with Joe Caputo (representing the Conservation Congress) saying it was a great idea. He said the DNR obviously listened to citizens following the earlier fiasco with the USWF grant. But he also wanted to be sure the process was “transparent.”
Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range, liked the grant idea, but he would like to see the $500,000 that is in the state budget also be distributed to sporting groups.
That $500,000 grant has not been awarded a second time. That grant had been written into the budget by former legislator Scott Suder with such strict restrictions that only the USWF could qualify. That group then lost the grant when it didn’t meet the qualifications and its president was found to have a previous hunting violation.
Though Gov. Scott Walker cancelled the USWF grant, Milroy said that money is still in the budget. He insists the Legislature could still modify the rules so that conservation groups could apply, but Assembly leaders haven’t shown the resolve to do that.
The $500,000 would come from general tax revenues on a one-time basis, and Milroy urges outdoorsmen to contact their legislators to ask for that money to be given out.
Council updates
The SHC received a briefing on the new Public Access Lands Atlas. The atlas shows not only the land bought with Knowles/Nelson Stewardship funds, but also all state-owned land and easements.
The DNR is working on modifications that would allow accessing the atlas on smartphones.
Scott Gunderson, DNR executive assistant, noted that the original idea for the atlas came from Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon.
Ryan Bronson, conservation and public policy administrator for Federal Ammunition (ATK Sporting Group Ammunition in Anoka, Minn.), gave a brief presentation on the Pass It On mentor program that started in Kansas.
This program involves Big Brothers and Big Sisters in conjunction with sportsmen to get young people outdoors. ATK has helped this and many youth hunting and shooting programs. The council will hear more information at a future meeting.
The council also discussed a subcommittee idea to allow ATV access at designated hunting locations for game retrieval between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. during hunting seasons. This would allow hunters to go into areas to retrieve deer or drop off or pick up treestands and equipment. The idea is modeled after a Colorado rule.
Some think it could disrupt hunters who like to hike to hunting locations. The council discussed testing it in an area to see if it would work.
Members also talked about the new law allowing bowhunting in municipalities on private land, and they expressed concern about landowners who receive ag damage tags but who don’t allow the public to hunt.
Rogers, who replaced Andy Pantzlaff as the council’s bear-hunting representative, attended his first meeting. Rogers has been involved in turkey LTH programs since they were created. And he’s a bear hunter.
The council will meet again April 29, probably at Poynette, and will have a report with its recommendations to the DNR and Legislature by July.
Recruitment efforts
Warnke briefed the council on the 2013 deer season and hunter recruitment and retention efforts.
Of the 633,600 deer licenses sold this past year, 10 percent were to females, and 33 percent of the new license buyers were female. Increased license sales were noted to hunters more than 50 years old and to youth hunters.
The number of 10- and 11-year-old hunters who hunt under the mentor program was about 14,000 in 2013. The DNR’s goal is to increase that by 2 percent each year. But Warnke admits the unanswered question is whether this is helping to turn the trend.
New this past year was that first-time license buyers who had never hunted deer in the past 10 years could buy a license for $5. This resulted in more than 20,000 adults buying a license, and about one-third were female.
The DNR has put on a “Hunting for Sustainability” program at the Madison Area Technical College the past two years. More and more adults want to know where their food comes from, officials say.
Out of the 10 hunters who participated this year, four shot deer using a free license that’s part of the program. Nine of those people then bought a license of their own afterward for the regular season.
Gunderson described a special effort from the DNR secretary’s office to mentor female hunters. Gunderson hunted with several females who said they enjoyed the experience, and one was successful in shooting two deer.
Warnke said that although the predicted trend in the number of resident deer hunters is down, since 2011 the DNR has been able to increase the number of resident hunters.
Ralph Fritsch, of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, said he is confident hunter numbers will climb the next four to five years because of the new crossbow bill.
“At age 50 we see a steep decline in archery participation, but I strongly believe people will come back with the ability to use crossbows,” Fritsch said.

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