Ice out, flooding, thunderstorms and tornados. For as long as I can remember, all are rites of the season. And of course, we must include the spring fish and game hearings to the list.
Never as volatile as spring storms, over the years the annual hearings have had their moments. Like debates on a morning dove hunt, anything to do with the sacred nine-day deer hunt, the earn-a-buck program, CWD and walleye bag limit adjustments for Ceded Territory lakes. From this reporter’s viewpoint, this year’s DNR and Conservation Congress annual spring fish & wildlife rule hearing – at least in Portage County - was mild and nothing like those of yesteryear.
With few real controversial issues on the table, the mood of the crowd of 252 men and women was rather tranquil – perhaps friendly at times. And that’s o.k.
“Thank you,” was uttered to my amazement more than once between audience members and DNR and Congress organizers on the front stage. Laughter filled the room a number of times. When commenting on the use of crossbows for deer hunting, one lady in the crowd described their effectiveness in feet per second and range. If you doubted her word, she challenged the audience, in a stark sign of the times, “Google it – check it out!”
With the blessing of the crowd, moderator Warden Barry Meister mercifully skipped twenty proposed local fisheries rule changes from other counties. A few questions that did stir a few comments included; allowing archery hunting during the traditional November gun hunt, not requiring blaze orange during a proposed elk hunt, the use of crossbows, duck hunting zones and season dates, the use of non-toxic shot on state land, legalizing rifles for hunting deer statewide and expansion to the spring turkey hunting periods. To that last question, a woman in the crowd commented, “Please vote yes. I need all the help I can get!”
Meetings were held simultaneously in all 72 counties across the state. Attendees voted on 85 balloted DNR rules and advisory questions presented by the Conservation Congress. In time, they may become regulations. The results of the statewide votes, once tabulated will be posted on www.dnr.wi.gov/org/nrboard/congress/spring_hearings/.
According to the DNR, the State Conservation Commission (the predecessor of the Natural Resources Board) created the Conservation Congress in 1934. The purpose was to provide Wisconsin citizens with a local avenue for input and exchange concerning conservation issues. Prior to 1937, all fees, seasons, bag limits and regulations were established by the State Legislature. In 1972, Governor Patrick Lucy signed legislation that legally recognized the Conservation Congress to ensure that citizens would have a liaison between the Natural Resources Board and the Department of Natural Resources.
This year I was struck by the number of young folks in the crowd. Always there in good numbers, UWSP students – no doubt, on assignment from the College of Natural Resources - dominated the crowd. And that is o.k.
If that small herd of young outdoor men and women spread out on our state’s lakes, streams and fields this year with the same passion - well, there is hope for the future of our outdoor pastimes.
Ken M. Blomberg is a freelance writer and longtime resident of the Town of Eau Pleine, northeast of Junction City. A 1976 graduate of UWSP in Resource Management, he is currently Executive Director of the Wisconsin Rural Water Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.