Madison — The Natural Resources Board approved changes to the state’s boating regulations that will mean hunters, anglers, and other boaters on federal waters must now have sound and visual distress devices aboard their craft.
At its Dec. 10 meeting, the NRB approved DNR-proposed rules that then were sent to Gov. Scott Walker for approval.
The rules, required by the U.S. Coast Guard for the state to receive funding assistance, now require boats on waterways with joint jurisdiction to have visual and sound-producing distress signal devices onboard. According to the DNR, this will apply to all boats on the Mississippi River, Great Lakes, Lake Winnebago, St. Croix River, and portions of the Wisconsin, Wolf, and Fox rivers.
The sound-producing distress signals could include air horns and loud whistles that can be heard a half-mile away, and this applies to all craft measuring less than 39 feet. Boats longer than 39 feet also are required to have a bell aboard.
The visual distress signals could include an orange flag, red flare, or pyrotechnic device, or electric light, and are required on boats of 16 feet or longer. These devices would allow a boater to signal for help in the case of an emergency.
Roy Zellmer, the DNR’s boating law administrator, told the board that the requirements were brought to the attention of the DNR during a review of the state boating safety program.
The DNR took the proposed rules to September public hearings in Wausau and Fitchburg. The rules were posted on the internet. Nobody appeared at the hearings to testify, and no negative comments were received.
Though not signed by the Walker as of the publication date for this issue of Wisconsin Outdoor News, once signed, the rules will go into effect after being published in the official state newspaper. The DNR anticipates that this rule will be in place for the 2015 boating season.
Another change to the boating rules includes requiring a no-wake speed within 100 feet of a patrol boat displaying emergency lights. This is similar to a “move over” law used for cars when approaching a patrol car with flashing lights.
The new rules also prohibit boats from displaying blue lights, which could be confused with a law enforcement boat at night. The rules also require boat noise testing of engines to meet standards of the Society of Automotive Engineers.
Changes exempt people on sailboards from having to wear a PFD and require waterway markers to have a DNR-assigned number to prevent unauthorized placement of buoys.
Spring hearing topics
The board also approved scope statements that now allow the DNR to write proposals for the 2015 spring hearings.
The board’s approval of the statements gives some indication of the types of questions that outdoorsmen can expect to see in April. Some of the more important changes would affect panfish, trout, turkey, and waterfowl regs.
One proposal would modify the spring turkey hunting season opening date so that it is always the third Wednesday in April.
Scott Loomans, DNR wildlife policy analyst, said the current rule allows the season to open on the second or third Wednesday in April during different years.
“Currently the season overlaps the Memorial Day holiday weekend in one out of every three years, and this proposal would stabilize the season opener,” Loomans said.
This would make it more predictable and easier for hunters to schedule their hunts, and result in the sixth time period always overlapping the Memorial Day holiday weekend. This also would reduce the likelihood of cold and snow during the youth hunt, Learn to Hunt programs, and early time period hunts.
Loomans said this would not change anything about turkey hunting in state parks. Spring turkey hunting is only allowed in state parks during the first three time periods, so it would not have any influence over the Memorial Day weekend when turkey hunting is not allowed.
Other wildlife proposals are:
• Simplify the prohibition of hunting waterfowl in open-water areas and expand near-shore areas where hunting is allowed (boats would no longer need to be concealed by emergent vegetation);
• Allow the use of foot-activated cable restraints, a new device used to trap furbearers;
• Simplify the fall turkey season so that hunting is always allowed on the day before the gun deer season; there would then be no closed periods in zones 1 to 5 in the southern part of the state;
• Allow pheasant hunting to begin at 9 a.m. on opening day rather than noon;
• Eliminate beaver and otter trapping in April, to address concerns about beaver population declines;
• Increase the limit on the number of small-game animals a person is allowed to possess at home or in transport to three times the daily bag limit, which is consistent with federal rules for migratory game birds;
• Eliminate trapping hour restrictions so that traps may be placed or tended at any time;
• Modify waterfowl hunting closed areas on DNR land on the Lower Wolf River Bottomlands;
• Modify damage-abatement programs so that bear permits would be issued if $5,000 or more of appraised bear damage occurs the previous year.
Some of the statewide fishing regulation proposed changes include:
• Trying three new regulations for panfish on 110 lakes (25 panfish daily with no more than 10 of any one species, 15 panfish per day with no more than five of any species, or 15 panfish per day with no more than five of any species during May and June to protect spawners);
• Expanding trout fishing by reducing categories of regulations and creating more uniform regulations;
• Opening the early release trout season in January and extending the harvest season until Oct. 15;
• Require Asian carp to be dead before being transported in or through Wisconsin;
• Remove special regulations on 25 lakes and return to general statewide regulations;
• Removing 29 fish refuges.
Kate Strom Hiorns, the DNR’s fisheries policy specialist, said the DNR previously was thinking about changing the opening weekend of the general fishing season so it does not conflict with Mother’s Day weekend, but agency officials changed their thinking after talking to partners. The DNR decided to keep things the same because of concerns from businesses and instead will promote the idea of “take Mom fishing.”
The DNR will present the actual spring hearing questions to the NRB at the board’s Jan. 27-28 meeting in Madison. At that time, board members also may add their own advisory questions to go out to the public hearings in April.