Madison — In hopes of removing some politics from natural resources debates and management decisions, a group of state legislators formed the Wisconsin Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus in late February.
The caucus is a branch of the National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses, which is part of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation.
Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, was instrumental in getting the group formed. Its first meeting was Feb. 25.
Kleefisch said the Congressional Foundation, of which Wisconsin Congressmen Paul Ryan and Ron Kind have been co-chairs in the past, has been successful in handling resource issues in the past and urged states to participate.
“When it comes to hunting and fishing and outdoor activities in the state of Wisconsin, there is no such thing as partisan politics,” Kleefisch said.
He said he believes everyone should enjoy the natural resources of the state.
“The National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses’ goal is to reach across the aisle and find common ways to promote hunting and fishing for citizens,” he said.
Kleefisch’s goal is to make access to hunting, fishing, and the outdoors easy and user-friendly. He said he strives for activities that get kids off the couch and into the outdoors.
Caucus Senate co-chairs are Terry Moulton, R-Chippewa Falls, and Mark Miller, D-Monona. Caucus Assembly co-chairs are Nick Milroy, D-South Range, and Kleefisch.
Currently the caucus has 55 members. Once it establishes its mission statement and puts some bills in play, other legislators who are interested in the outdoors will probably join, Kleefisch said.
One of the first bills, currently being circulated by Kleefisch, would allow for turkeys to be donated to food programs. Currently only venison may be donated. Kleefisch hopes to expand that to turkeys and possibly other species of wildlife.
“One of the richest rewards of hunting and fishing is putting food on the table, and if we can do that for the less fortunate, it is all the more rewarding,” he said.
Kleefisch said he is working closely with Rep. Al Ott, chairman of the Assembly Natural Resources and Sporting Heritage Committee, and will consult with the Conservation Congress and other groups that want to promote natural resources.
Ott, R-Forest Junction, is a member of the caucus and said he thinks it has a chance of bringing in good ideas that work in other states.
“We can see what another state is doing and maybe it will work in our state,” Ott said. “Nobody has a lock on good ideas.
“I think it links us together in common interests and will result in more visibility for sportsmen,” he said.
Milroy said he and Kleefisch share many of the same interests about sporting heritage. Milroy thought the idea of a caucus was a good one.
“The big challenge that we face in the outdoor community is recruiting and retaining hunters and fishermen and people being in the outdoors,” Milroy said.
“Technology and the fact that young people are busy with school and extracurricular activities – they don’t have the time that they did in the past,” he said.
Milroy also serves on the Sporting Heritage Council.
Rep. Chris Danou, D-Trempealeau, is a caucus member who’s interested in natural resources, having a master’s degree in wildlife from UW-Stevens Point.
“I’m hoping we can have the potential to put aside the nasty partisanship that goes on down here and have a frank discussion about actual natural resources policy and what is good for the state,” Danou said.
“We’ve got to try,” he added.
He hopes caucus members will discuss the governor’s proposed budget, which has “some bad stuff in it for natural resources,” Danou said. “I hope I can convince some of my Republican colleagues to take a stand against the governor. I’ve been talking to a lot of folks back home and have not heard a single person say that getting rid of Stewardship and the Natural Resources Board is a good idea.”
Members of the Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus will meet with sporting groups at 10 a.m. on March 18 at the North Hearing Room of the state Capitol.
The meeting, sponsored by Ducks Unlimited, is open to the public and will involve a get-together with outdoor groups. Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, the National Wild Turkey Federation, and the Wisconsin Waterfowl Association will present information about natural resources.
In the evening, Ducks Unlimited will host a reception at the Madison Concourse and Governors Club. Tickets to the evening reception are $10.
Nels Swenson, public policy chairman for Wisconsin Ducks Unlimited, said he’s glad that Wisconsin now has a Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus. During the reception, DU will honor the leaders of the new caucus.