If you want to see a mess, look no further than the handling of Act 168 in Wisconsin.
Act 168, dubbed the “Sporting Heritage Act,” received overwhelming support in the state’s Legislature when it was passed in 2012 and went into effect on Jan. 1.
The act provides discounted license fees for first-time hunters and anglers, establishes a free fishing weekend where newcomers can try their hand at fishing without needing a license and opened Wisconsin’s state parks to hunting and trapping. The latter, it seems, has opened a giant can of worms and has created an anti-hunting movement from the most unlikely of sources: Wisconsin’s hunters themselves.
It should be no surprise that anti-hunting groups were quick to pounce upon hearing of the news that state parks would be opened to hunting. What is surprising, however, is the fact that the new law doesn’t seem to have the support of Wisconsin’s hunters nor the governing body responsible for establishing hunting and fishing regulations.
The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board, which sets policy for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, was given the authority by Act 186 to establish hunting and trapping opportunities in all of Wisconsin’s state parks and recommendations for the Wisconsin DNR would have opened most Wisconsin parks during the majority of the state’s hunting and fishing seasons.
But the Board instead opted to open parks to hunters for just one month (Nov. 15 – Dec. 15) during the fall and for three weeks during the spring turkey season.
Why would a board whose purpose is to encourage, promote and protect hunting and fishing opportunities in the state go against the recommendations of the DNR and seemingly the intent of state law?
Because the “people” told them to.
The Board received about 2,000 written comments on the issue and 96 percent of those comments were opposed to hunting in the parks. Five listening sessions were held to hear public comment on the issue. They were heavily-attended and the comments were overwhelmingly against hunting in the parks.
Recent Board meetings have also been well-attended by members of the public and the vast majority of public comments have been against hunting in the parks – including comments from hunters who say they simply don’t feel parks should be open to hunting.
At its most recent meeting on Dec. 11, the DNR offered a counter-proposal that would have opened more than 60 percent of Wisconsin’s parks to hunting and trapping from mid-October through May.
The Board rejected that proposal and instead approved the shortened hunt periods citing “safety concerns.” Apparently, the Board opted not to educate itself on the facts that clearly show hunting and trapping are exceptionally safe activities.
From start to finish, it would seem this issue of hunter access has been poorly handled and has been a tremendous missed opportunity for hunters to unite and stand up against the mistruths and misconceptions being so readily accepted as fact.
Paul Smith, the Outdoors Editor for the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel reported that Rep. Jeffrey Mursau, co-author of the act, stated at the December Board meeting that hunters and trappers have the right to utilize all public lands in the state. Which is an excellent point. However, he continued by stating, “Peace and quiet is not a constitutional right.”
In doing so, he seems to imply that hunting and trapping will somehow disturb the “serenity” of the park landscape and that’s a notion that every single hunter should challenge.
We’re hunters, not rock stars.
What was supposed to be legislation to protect and enhance Wisconsin’s outdoors heritage seems to be doing exactly the opposite. Public hearing sessions served as recruiting tools for anti-hunting groups. Hunters chose to divide their ranks and speak out against the Act.
Smith reported this comment from a hunter at the December meeting: “I feel it is irresponsible to encourage hunters and non-hunters to be in the woods at the same time.”
Now we, as hunters, are stating in public forums that hunters and non-hunters cannot co-exist? That public lands we all pay for should be reserved solely for the use of non-hunters because our heathen activities are disruptive?