Bad idea: Hunting & trapping in Wis. state parks
New law could frighten many visitors away
Earlier this year, the Wisconsin Legislature approved Act 168, titled the Sporting Heritage Bill, which will greatly expand hunting and trapping in Wisconsin State Parks from October 15 through the Thursday prior to Memorial Day weekend starting January 1, 2013. The law allows the Department of Natural Resources to prohibit hunting and trapping within 100 yards of state park "designated use areas" such as campgrounds, picnic areas and beaches and some trails, including segments of the Ice Age Trail. A determination to limit hunting and trapping in any other areas of a state park or during certain time periods to protect public safety or unique natural resources requires approval by a majority of the Natural Resources Board.
Many outlying trails within state parks designated for hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, as well as popular rock climbing areas, are not included in designated use areas on maps recently released by the DNR, so those areas will likely be subject to hunting and trapping seven months out of the year.
Imagine going to a Wisconsin state park to simply walk your dog on a beautiful spring day early next year. Let's call her Daizi. You have her on a leash, but a squirrel unexpectedly runs across your path. Daizi loves chasing squirrels, and even though she has never caught one she is off before you can catch the leash. You call Daizi back, but she is after that squirrel, off the trail and in the woods.
As you follow her into the woods you suddenly hear a high pitched bark and suspect the squirrel or some other animal must have surprised your pup. As the yipping becomes more pronounced and more urgent, you become worried. You catch up to where Daizi is and you find her bleeding and caught in what appears to be a trap. Fortunately for Daizi, no life-threatening injuries were caused, but stitches and a broken bone are horrible enough.
Through all of this you have no idea how this could happened. You come to find that Act 168, which went into effect January 1, 2013, is what has caused this.
On October 6, 2011, a bill was introduced in the State Assembly that would become Act 168. In that bill there was a lot of feel good things to promote hunting in Wisconsin. After a public hearing on October 11, there were seven amendments made to the bill. Amendment 4, introduced by Republican Jeffrey Mursau of Crivitz did two things. Mursau added fishing and trapping to the proposal's text and removed restrictions on hunting in state parks. On November 1, the bill was passed 84 to 12 in the Assembly. Amendment 4 remained in the bill as it moved through the Senate.
My guess is very few people realized the implications of these changes except for a few who wanted to pay back their hunting, fishing and trapping constituents. I've heard it said that it was deemed too politically risky to remove Amendment 4. In any case, on March 7, 2012, the bill passed the Senate 32 to 1. Only Senator Fred Risser of Madison voted against it.
The bill became law on April 3 and will go into effect January 1, 2013.
Rights of the majority ignored
As a progressive liberal Democrat, I tend to believe that good things happen to people that don't cause trouble and do good themselves. I don't think that others want to purposefully harm me. But what has happened here is either a quagmire of unintended consequences or an implicit disdain for my rights. In any case it is imperative that the silent sports community get immediately involved with steering the implementation of Act 168.
This Act will prevent the safe use of our biking, hiking, riding, running and skiing trails from October 15 through to Memorial Day. If you do the math, this covers over seven months of the year in which hunters and trappers will have access to your favorite state park in those exact same areas you have been enjoying for years.
In late October through mid November, there were five listening sessions held around the state hosted by the Natural Resources Board. The NRB will meet in Madison December 11-12 to finalize how the Department of Natural Resources is to implement Act 168.
As State Parks Director Dan Schuller said at the listening session I went to on October 29 in Fitchburg, Act 168 is law. It is now only a matter of implementation. The NRB is considerably friendly to hunting, fishing and trapping interests and will become more so next June when two new appointees of Governor Scott Walker take seats on the board.
Certain provisions of the law promote hunting without infringing on non-hunting visitors' rights. This includes fishing and youth hunting in general. The onerous part of the law is the where and when hunting and trapping is to be allowed in the state parks.
Until this law was enacted, the DNR opened many areas of state parks to hunting but not trapping. Now all park lands will be open to hunting and trapping unless specifically closed by the DNR or NRB at its December meeting. This legal overreaching was done with so little forethought or regard for the majority of park users. I just hope a consequence of the hunting and trapping lobby's success is a more vocal and demanding silent sports constituency.
This will require communication with local officials so we are heard as much as the noisy sports. A DNR staffer told me that the hunting and trapping interests are regularly represented at the DNR and state capitol. We need to be there, too, making more noise ourselves.
The majority of the 60-some speakers at the public hearing I attended pointed out the safety concerns the law raises. This is the strongest argument for limiting the extent of this law and closing more areas to hunting, fishing and trapping.
At Blue Mounds State Park, for example, the vast majority of the skiers, mountain bikers and snowshoers will have to contend with hunters and trappers unless we get those trails closed before January 1. If left as is, the law will disenfranchise the majority of park users.
Several speakers said that only 7 percent of state park visitors go with the express purpose to hunt. That means 93 percent of visitors do not hunt. And since the law will be opening up large parts of the parks to hunting, a sizable percentage of that 93 percent will be reasonably frightened away.
Write to your lawmakers
I ask you to write to your representatives in the Legislature. They passed the law and they will need to rescind it. Whether you think your representative agrees or disagrees with you, it is very important that they know how you think.
If you want to actively rebel against this law, the easiest thing to do would be to not buy a state parks sticker and to write your representatives to explain why. Instead, go skiing at a county park or camp at a private campground. Many people at the hearing made it clear they would go to Minnesota or Michigan instead of risking going to a Wisconsin park. This is a sad, yet understandable decision.
The danger of a rifle shell traveling over 1,000 yards and striking an unintended target is scary. Beyond the general nature of traps which are cruel to animals, there is the fear that a dog, adult or child may happen upon trap and be hurt or disabled.
Many speakers at the hearing identified themselves as hunters but yet adamantly opposed the law from a safety perspective. At least eight residents of the Slack Road neighborhood near Gibraltar Rock north of Madison pleaded for the closing of a narrow strip of state land and Ice Age Trail to hunting and trapping. It was a good example of why each area ought to be evaluated for whether hunting and fishing there makes sense. This may be impossible since the law is to go into effect so soon.
The cost in time and effort to disallow hunting and trapping in particular parks will be prohibitive and would likely be delayed due to the large number of requests the NRB is likely to receive. But the more land that can be set aside and closed to hunting and trapping, the safer the parks will be.
This law, passed by the Republican majority in the Legislature, is not reasonable in its pursuit of overextending the rights for the hunting, fishing and trapping minority at the extraordinary expense of the silent sports majority. Depending on how this Act is implemented, I will feel oppressed. Feeling oppressed and being controlled by fear are two different things, though. I will continue to run in Blue Mounds State Park. I can run from my house to the park in seven minutes, so I won't need to buy an annual park sticker for a vehicle.
Hunters have access to nearly seven million acres of public land throughout Wisconsin. It would seem that seven million acres should be enough. If they are to also have access to our state parks, hunters and trappers should have to register at the park office so there is documentation of where they are - and where traps are set.
As a silent sports enthusiast, I never really thought advocacy was all that important. "Of course, I will always have access to state parks lands," I thought. But particular groups, including the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, are steering the law-making process in a partisan, uncompromising political environment.
Written comments about Act 168 are being accepted by the DNR through November 23. Email them to DNRWisconsinParks@wisconsin.gov. After that, contact your state representatives. Find out who they are here.
For more information on Act 168, including maps of the new hunting, fishing and trapping areas in each state park and near every state trail and the Ice Age Trail, go here.
Jason Dorgan of Blue Mounds, Wisconsin, is a mechanical engineer, ultrarunner, bicyclist, hiker, cross-country skier and an Ice Age Trail Alliance board member. In 2007, Dorgan set the record for the fastest thru-hike of the 1,000-plus mile Ice Age Trail (22 days, six hours).
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