An April ritual took place Monday evening in every Wisconsin county: the Conservation Congress held its annual spring meeting.
The hearings are a chance for the public to give input on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) proposed rule changes and advisory questions related to fish and wildlife management in the state. And Conservation Congress advocates think more people should care about the process.
First order of business at Milwaukee County’s Conservation Congress meeting, which took place at Nathan Hale High School auditorium in West Allis, was delegate elections. The congress is made up of county residents, and Barbara Dahlgren was hoping to win a second term.
“I really want to keep public spaces public and keep as much land open to the public as possible. The other thing that I said two year ago that I’m still in favor now is science-based techniques to figure out how to manage the land and the resources,” Dahlgren says.
Dahlgren won but only after two rounds of voting, after the first round ended in a tie.
With each vote, residents wrote their choice on a specific colored paper. The slips are hand-counted and saved for one full year – in case anyone wants to make sure votes were properly counted.
Part of the meeting’s agenda goes to DNR business. So, Conservation Warden Steven Swiertz conducts what’s officially called a public hearing. He reads aloud 49 proposed rule changes mostly having to do with fisheries, fewer to do with wildlife.
“Do you support a rule change allowing raccoon incidentally taken in beaver sets during the beaver trapping season and after the close of the raccoon season to be legally kept,” Swiertz says.
Matt Schmitt has been a trapper since 1982, and he thinks there are way too many raccoons on the landscape.
“Right now, the raccoons are running rampant because the fur prices are low — there’s no control, so there are way too many of them. So, let the guys keep them. Otherwise you’re just wasting the resource because the wardens don’t have time to get there every time you call. You’re just throwing them in the garbage,” Schmitt says.
Then, Milwaukee County chair Scott Schoenike moves on to citizen resolutions. County by county, people can submit their own proposals.
Gloriann Klein wants to ban the use of bear hound dogs on wolves if and when Wisconsin’s gray wolf hunt comes back to life — right now the wolf is still federally protected.
“If the wolves are delisted, can that be interpreted as a successful recover program? The question is how do we work on conservation issues, how do we manage the wolves in this day and age, with the issues that we have? Hound hunting is not a necessary component of that conservation question,” Klein says.
Wauwatosa resident Michael Dettlaff supports a citizen resolution to ban the sale of ammunition made of lead.
“It should have been done, it should have been banned a long time ago in water systems or for ammunition. I’ve seen lead poisoning in raptures and in waterfowl and it’s a terrible thing. So thank you, I support this,” Dettlaff says.
Ultimately, 88 items were up for vote, in addition to citizen resolutions raised in Milwaukee County.
The spring meeting process is evolving. This year, for the first time, people can vote online until April 11. Once results are compiled, they will appear on the DNR website.
In early May, Conservation Congress delegates will gather in Appleton to begin working through all of the resolutions from each county that won enough votes to pass. Ultimately, some of those proposed rules will go before the Natural Resources Board and could be folded into Wisconsin’s natural resources policy.
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