Thursday, September 20, 2018

Getting Out

Knight Life: Variety of natural resources issues to be discussed at Conservation Congress

Variety of natural resources issues to be discussed at annual hearings

  • con-gettingout-hunting2-112417-1

    Attendees at this year’s Conservation Congress spring hearings will discuss a question about whether crossbow deer hunting should have its own separate, shorter season in Wisconsin. The hearings occur in each of the state’s 72 counties.

    Contributed photo

  • jk-TroutFile-022803-14209921-120774

    A question at Monday’s Conservation Congress spring hearings seeks to open the inland trout season on the first Saturday in April.

    Staff file photo

Until 2014, Wisconsin bow hunters could only use crossbows during hunting season if they were 65 or older, or if they had a note from the doctor indicating they could not draw a bow.

That changed in 2014, when crossbows became legal for everyone to use during the bow season.

Crossbow hunters were required to have a separate license, so the hunting success of crossbow hunters could be compared with other archers at a later date.

Now the Wisconsin Conservation Congress is asking sportsmen to weigh in on whether crossbows are too efficient and should have their own, shorter season. 

 The bow season opens in mid-September and continues into early January.

The questionnaire states: “The data is in. Crossbows did not produce the anticipated increase in deer numbers. The long season did create a dramatic shift of both gun hunters and bowhunters into the crossbow season where their odds of harvesting a buck are approaching approximately 50 percent higher …”

That question and others will be discussed at this year’s Conservation Congress spring hearings. The hearings happen in each of Wisconsin’s 72 counties at 7 p.m. Monday. For more information, visit and search using the keywords “Conservation Congress.”

Spring tradition

The annual spring hearings in Wisconsin are an attempt to have regular citizens weigh in on natural resources issues. Most questions have to do with hunting, fishing or trapping seasons, but some questions are broader, including items on climate change, creating penalties for farmers who till within five feet of a lake or stream and establishing rules to protect groundwater in areas of soil technology, which includes portions of western Wisconsin. 

Another environmental question would ban the use of neonicotinoid insecticides on state agriculture and forest lands. Those chemicals are suspected in the decline of pollinating insects.

There are really two hearings held on the same night. The first one is run by the state Department of Natural Resources and the second by the Conservation Congress, comprised of delegates elected at these hearings. Votes at the hearings are advisory to the Natural Resources Board and the state Legislature.

Local resolutions

People attending hearings can propose resolutions, although they must be written and presented before a hearing.

According to Wisconsin Outdoor Journal, a retired Jackson County warden, Rollie Lee, plans to introduce a resolution to re-instate the requirement that hunters tag the deer they shoot. You may remember that last fall, after learning that paper tags were not durable, the state Legislature did away with the tagging requirement. 

A couple years ago a young man from Fall Creek, Jack Thomson, introduced a resolution at the Eau Claire County hearing to create a catch-and-release season for bass, similar to the season trout anglers have. The resolution was approved locally, and this spring it is back as a statewide rule proposal. It is the first question on the questionnaire.

Group hunting

Before the state changed the law to allow “group bagging” during the gun deer season, the individual deer tagging requirement was probably the most frequently broken law since prohibition. 

 This year’s questionnaire asks whether Wisconsin should eliminate the group hunting rule, which allows hunters to legally shoot a deer for another hunter to tag. The hunter tagging the deer is required to be within voice range of the hunter shooting the deer.

Opponents of group hunting feel that it promotes unethical and sometimes illegal behavior and “complicates the rules,” according to the questionnaire.

Supporters of the group hunting law say the practice is how families and groups hunt during the gun deer season. 

If one hunter shoots a deer on opening morning, they want to stay in the woods and help other hunters in the group get a deer.

Other questions

Question 16 asks whether all visitors to state lands that include wildlife, fishery, natural area or leased public hunting grounds should pay a $5 annual fee to help cover the cost of management and infrastructure on these lands. 

The Natural Resources Board estimates this would raise $3 million annually, although they don’t have a good estimate of how many people use public lands.

Advisory question 28 asks whether the state should go to a statewide 12-inch size limit on largemouth bass, with a three-fish bag limit. The current statewide limit is 14 inches with a five-fish limit.

Another proposal would establish a 14-inch limit and a five-fish limit for permitted catch-and-release bass tournaments even on lakes that had different regulations.

A question form the Congress’ Trout Committee would open the inland trout season on the first Saturday in April. The state has a catch-and-release season with an artificial lure-only requirement from January through the Friday before the May general fishing opener. 

The season was recently modified to add January and February to the catch-and-release season and add the first two weeks of October to the catch-and-keep season.

Knight was a Leader-Telegram outdoors reporter and is a freelance writer in Eau Claire. 

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