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A New Era on the Horizon - Hunting in Wisconsin State Parks


As 2013 begins, Wisconsin will enter a new chapter of hunting and trapping. The DNR is proposing rules regulating outdoor activities in 64 percent of state parks and trails. The Legislature approved Act 168 to boost participation in traditional outdoor sports.

January 1 will usher in Wisconsin Act 168. Often called the Sporting Heritage Bill, it allows people to hunt and trap in many state parks and trail systems.

The law's goal is to increase participation in "back to nature" activities and it directs the DNR to open all state lands, unless those activities would imperil humans or threaten rare wildlife or plants.

Tuesday the Natural Resources Board will vote on the rules.

WUWM Environmental Reporter Susan Bence reviewed citizen input offered during the public comment period and at five public hearings.

Some applaud the plan as a "hunting motivator," while others fret about its impact.

Although it's too late to testify at today's meeting, people can attend the one o'clock event at the State Natural Resources Building in Madison.

Jane Wiley says she walked into the discussion of how to set up a hunt and trap system in state parks with her eyes wide open.

She is a member of the Natural Resources Board.

"We just knew it was going to be a very controversial sort of thing," Wiley says.

But even Wiley, who attended all five public feedback meetings around the state, might have been surprised at the outpouring of public input on Act 168.

"We just wanted people be aware of it and give us some input so we can the best we can under incredibly difficult circumstances," Wiley says.

More than 2,000 people had something to say by letter, email, phone or in person.

According to DNR records, the vast majority – nearly 96 percent – registered not liking the plan.

Some worry about ecological impacts; others, public safety.

Linda Adams falls under "all of the above."

She calls herself one of many avid skiers who glide the Northern Kettle Moraine.

"We believe in getting there 12 `months out of there and so losing that amount of time to the parks that for some people, it's there only place to get that outdoor time," Adams says.

When Adams refers to, ‘losing that amount of time', she is talking about the months the DNR would allow hunting and trapping in parks.

The season would stretch from mid-October until late May.

Adams suggested giving sportsmen a more limited, but exclusive hunting season.

Her wish did not come true; however, the DNR did make modifications.

For example, at Big Foot Beach Park in Walworth County, the agency reduced the hunting zone by two thirds and would allow only bow hunting. On popular trails, such as in Newport State Park in Door County, the rules would ban hunting on all land sweeping the Lake Michigan shore.

After removing acres here and there, the plan preserves 64 percent of state park and trail land for hunting and trapping enthusiasts.

Brian Much says he'd be happier, if opening day was September 15.

"But I know that when we have public lands that we have to share and part of sharing is that you have to make reasonable and fair accommodations to people who have an interest in the property," Much says.

The Oconomowoc resident describes himself a trail user, as well as a hunter.

He's convinced both can operate safety under Wisconsin's new law.

"People imagine that as soon as the parks open, they'll be saturated with hunters; that's not the case. I would venture to say that most people won't even know when hunters and trappers are operating in the parks. They're out of view; I mean why would you hunt where there are other people tramping around. It's not a part of the environment that you want to hunt in," Much says.

In order to reduce the chances that trail users and hunters accidentally cross paths, the DNR intends to post maps at key locations to indicate what can or cannot occur there.

The Natural Resources Board vote on the proposed rules is slated for later today; but it won't come without more debate.

At least 60 people have registered to testify.

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