Last month, a group of Wisconsin sportsmen and women gathered for the second annual Hunters’ Rights Summit in Stevens Point, Wis., to discuss issues of concern to the state’s hunting community. Hosted by the Wisconsin Hunters’ Rights Coalition, the summit’s purpose was to set priorities for the state’s upcoming legislative session and to meet and discuss the status of hunters’ rights issues in Wisconsin.
If for no other reason, the summit was a tremendous success in that it brought key decision makers together from the state government, Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and hunting and conservation groups to talk about issues that impact hunters in a positive, constructive manner.
Appearing before those gathered at the summit were DNR Secretary Matt Frank, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, Chairman of the state Senate Natural Resources Committee Jim Holperin, and state Reps. Scott Gunderson and Ann Hraychuck. Representatives from the NRA, National Wild Turkey Federation, Safari Club International, Wisconsin Bear Hunters’ Association, U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, Wisconsin Trappers Association, and the Wisconsin Waterfowlers Association also attended the summit.
The speakers covered a number of topics ranging from hunter access to youth hunting to wolves and the status of the state’s deer population.
Among the issues addressed by Secretary Frank was his promise that progress would be made on writing the rules to implement the new requirement that state purchased land be open for hunting and trapping through the state stewardship program.
“Hunters are sitting down with land trusts, mayors, hikers, cross country skiers and others to make this work for everybody,” Frank said.
Frank also indicated that in light of a new bear population study, the DNR would be issuing more bear hunting permits in the future.
“We were severely undercounting bears,” said Frank. We’re pleased to say we’re comfortable with putting more bear permits out there.”
Frank expressed the DNR’s displeasure with the wrangling among federal officials over removing gray wolves from the Endangered Species List and indicated that the DNR would seek a new federal permit to allow them to manage wolves.
He admitted that such as permit would not be as effective as a federal de-listing order.
Van Hollen, an avid hunter, echoed Frank sentiment over wolves in Wisconsin, saying that he believes wolves are the reason why Wisconsin hunters are seeing fewer deer. “We didn’t see nearly as many deer this year at our camp and throughout the north,” Van Hollen said, “and I believe the number one reason for this is the number of deer being killed by wolves.”
“A lot of people didn’t see deer this year,” Frank admitted, “and we’ve gotten a lot of calls and emails since the November hunt.” Frank acknowledged that the DNR underestimated the impact of last winter’s weather on fawn production.
Rep. Hraychuck, the newly-appointed chair of the Assembly on Fish and Wildlife, said that she will continue to work to pass legislation in support of youth mentored hunting. “We need to do everything we can to get legislators to now how important this is,” said Hraychuck. “We have to get kids into the woods by the time they are 10 years old.”
Hraychuck is also in favor of legislation to turn the appointment of the DNR Secretary over to the state Natural Resources Board. Currently, the secretary is a political appointee made by the governor. “This appointment should not be political—our resources are too precious to be subject to politics.”
Rep. Gunderson, a key Republican point person on hunting issues from his time spent leading the State Assembly’s Natural Resources Committee, believes that much of the problem with hunting is that the DNR often does not listen to sportsmen out in the field or to the own field staff. Gunderson also agreed with other speakers who believe that Wisconsin’s deer numbers just aren’t there.
“If we want kids to be involved in hunting, it’s tough when kids sit out there for a week and don’t see a deer,” Gunderson said.
Sen. Holperin, the new chair of the senate committee that will oversee hunting, fishing, and trapping legislation, stressed the importance of keeping partisan politics away from sportsmen’s issues.
“I believe that if we have more hunters and better hunting ethics then we’ll have more support for more public land and more support for proper forest management,” Holperin said.
Summits such as the one held in Wisconsin will continue to play a vital role in the fight for hunters’ rights and should serve as a model for other states to hold similar meetings where hunting issues can be actively examined by stakeholder groups.
After all, getting together and working on these issues is the only way to understand the obstacles that we face—and to come up with a plan to safeguard the sport’s future.
“The organizations that seek to bring hunting to a screeching halt are getting better and more organized,” said Rob Sexton, Vice President of Government Affairs for the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance. “If you think we have the right to hunt and don’t need to go to Madison to fight for those rights, you’re going to get smoked. You have to weigh in and get your hands dirty.”
That process is already well underway in Wisconsin. A groundswell of support for such conferences in other states would go a long way to making sure hunters’ voices—and their rights—are heard by the people that can protect them.