WCC’s 80th year opens with tundra swan idea

Some tundra swans have migrated into the state, according to the most recent Minnesota DNR weekly waterfowl migration report.

Wausau, Wis. — It was 1934 when the likes of conservation icons Aldo Leopold, Wisconsin Chief Game Warden Harley MacKenzie, and Superintendent of Game William Grimmer created the county-based system of citizen natural resources involvement known as the Wisconsin Conservation Congress. In 1971, Gov. Patrick Lucey signed a bill into law recognizing the congress’ role as an advisory body to the Natural Resources Board and the DNR.

Now in its 80th year, the Conservation Congress Executive Council met Jan. 10-11 to consider all things conservation and formulate proposals for the 2014 spring hearings agenda.

Recommendations include adding a tundra swan season, on-line registration of deer, and protection of white deer within CWD zones. These ideas were to have been advanced to the Natural Resources Board at its Jan. 21 meeting.

Citizen proposals from at least five Wisconsin counties have urged the establishment of a tundra swan season. Al Shook, WCC delegate from Waukesha County, noted that several other states have similar seasons.

“Tens of thousands fly through Wisconsin each year,” Shook said, a contention supported by Kent Van Horn, DNR migratory game bird ecologist. In a 2012 presentation to the WCC Migratory Committee, Van Horn noted that as many as 78,000 tundra swans (2011) have been observed during the peak count in late November to early December.

Tundra swans were removed from the state endangered list in 2009, said Van Horn, who acknowledges the complexity of migratory game bird issues. “These questions are never simple because the birds move across the continent in different ways and the hunting regulations involve federal rules, flyway management plans, and state regulations,” he said.

Discussion of questions regarding on-line registration of deer occurred before the council voted to include the proposal on the agenda. While noting that the subject is on the Jan. 21 NRB agenda for approval, the council decided citizens should weigh in on the matter.

Stan Brownell, of Monroe County, is concerned about the impact on registration stations.

“I feel sorry for station owners who will be hurt by phone-in registration,” Brownell said.

Forest County delegate John Aschenbrenner had other concerns. “This will lead to more illegal kills,” he warned. “Once they get the deer home, who knows if it will ever get registered.”

Others expressed concerns about the possible decline in testing within the CWD zone.

Protection of white deer arose amid controversy over a deer shot in 2012 in Sauk County (white deer are fair game in the CWD zones). Some biologists say that white and albino deer are genetically inferior. Several WCC delegates agreed.

“Does the white deer have some remarkable ability to avoid CWD?” asked Dale Maas, of Dodge County.

Rejected ideas included allowing hunters to retrieve dogs without landowner permission, giving conservation wardens power to enforce trespass laws, and the reinstating of a northern pike spearing season on the Wisconsin/Michigan boundary (Menominee River).

Several members defended the idea of allowing hunters to retrieve dogs. Green County’s Ken Risley noted that if the landowner cannot be contacted or it’s late at night, the hunter has few options.

Several states allow unauthorized entry to retrieve a dog, but with the stipulations: no firearm, the hunter must leave immediately upon retrieving the dog, and he may not take game.

DNR staff members offered a preview of spring hearing questions. Mike Staggs, DNR Bureau of Fisheries chief, rolled out 26 fisheries-related items. He reported that while the number of state anglers has remained stable since 1990, growth in fishing interest has stagnated relative to the growth in population. Similar trends are evident nationwide, he said.

Staggs also said the DNR anticipates improved fishing license sales as large numbers of baby boomers enter retirement and will have more time for their hobbies. He noted the importance of getting families involved.

“We’re promoting free fishing weekends as family events,” he said.

Regarding reported declines in walleye populations, Staggs said the situation should improve somewhat under the Wisconsin Walleye Initiative signed into law by Gov. Walker last year.

“Before, the agency would stock 60,000 to 70,000 large fingerlings,” he said.

Under the new law, that number will increase to as many as 800,000, Staggs said, as long as that effort remains in the budget.

Tom Hauge, DNR Bureau of Wildlife Management director, reviewed wildlife questions and distributed a handout on the proposed Deer Trustee Report rule package (an agenda item at the Jan. 21 NRB meeting). The DTR describes changes in the deer season to include a continuous archery season from the September opener to the end of the first weekend in January and an antlerless-only format during the holiday hunt.

Also, a proposed advisory committee in each county would hold a herd status meeting to evaluate local data regarding the deer herd. Consistent with that arrangement, deer management units will be set up by county. The DTR also establishes a Deer Management Assistance Program that would include county biologists and foresters in deer management.

The fall turkey kill was down 34 percent from 2012. Pheasant stocking climbed from 50,000 to 75,000 birds.

To review all spring hearing questions, go to www.dnr.wi.gov (Conservation Congress page). The hearings will be April 14.

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