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If you don't want legislators or governors dictating policies and priorities for hunting, fishing and trapping, make it your priority to attend Monday night's conservation hearing in your county.

The spring hearings, held simultaneously in all 72 counties starting at 7 p.m., are joint efforts of the Department of Natural Resources and Wisconsin Conservation Congress.

The congress, for better or worse, is a 360-citizen advisory group of five elected delegates from each county. It's been around more than 75 years, and it's legislatively sanctioned to advise the Natural Resources Board on conservation matters.

In turn, the seven-citizen DNR Board is legislatively sanctioned to set agency policy, although its power has been increasingly tested since 1995 when it lost its responsibilities for hiring and firing the DNR secretary. The result has been continued interference and disregard from lawmakers of the board and congress.

That's where you come in. Granted, the spring hearings can be as tedious as anything witnessed in the Capitol or at city hall. The alternative, however, is letting legislators ignore the Congress' year-round efforts to hear and represent your views, and instead listen to lobbyists who represent only those paying for their time and expertise navigating the Capitol.

And that's why you must weigh in Monday on Question 64 on the 85-item agenda. This Conservation Congress advisory question asks if all land, water, hunting, fishing, trapping, habitat and conservation issues should go through the congress before lawmakers act on them.

Let's be clear: The congress wouldn't ask such a question if lawmakers knew and respected history. The State Conservation Commission, forerunner to our DNR Board, created the congress in 1934 to do work that lawmakers now keep trying to subvert.

We should ask lawmakers why they have more time than their 1930s counterparts for such chores. The Legislature in 1937 removed itself from setting fees, seasons, regulations and bag limits on fishing, hunting and trapping. It entrusted those tasks to the congress and Conservation Commission.

In 1972, Gov. Patrick Lucy signed legislation officially sanctioning the congress as citizen liaisons to the DNR Board. The Legislature retained rights of final review, but trusted the DNR, its board and the congress to filter out poor ideas.

In fact, Question 64 doesn't go far enough. Wisconsin should follow Michigan's lead and press to change the state constitution to make game management an exclusive responsibility of the DNR Board.

It's been 15 years since Michigan voted to keep politicians out of game management. The only authority Michigan's Legislature retains is the right to "designate a species of bird or mammal as 'game.'"

Michigan's game-management decisions are the duty of its Natural Resources Council, the equivalent of our DNR Board. It must hold public meetings to get citizen input before changing game laws. The NRC's decisions must be based on a resource's welfare, not tourism, business or political interests.

We should kick the Legislature out of fisheries management, too. Just as we didn't need former Sen. Russ Decker, D-Weston, trying to rewrite hunting laws, we didn't need Rep. Dan Meyer, R-Eagle River, creating an early muskie season without proper public review. Those brainstorms never went through the congress, and Meyer nearly lost his Assembly seat over it.

Question 64 isn't the only reason to attend Monday's hearings. If you're a bowhunter, deer hunter, turkey hunter, muskie hunter or bass angler, plenty of questions need your attention. For instance, what do you think of a statewide 40-inch limit on muskies, should spring turkey seasons run seven days instead of five, should archers be able to hunt during gun deer season, should rifles be allowed statewide during deer season, and should December hunting become a permanent part of autumn's turkey season?

And don't forget the crossbow proposals. Should crossbows be legal for all bowhunters during archery deer season, or just those 55 and older? And should crossbows be allowed for bow-fishing?

To see all 85 questions, go to www.dnr.wi.gov/org/ nrboard/congress/spring_hearings. As you review the questions, ask yourself if lawmakers and lobbyists can address these questions more fairly and competently than you and the Conservation Congress.

Patrick Durkin is a freelance writer who covers outdoors for the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Email him at patrickdurkin@charter.net.

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