Wis. board partially restricts hunt in state parks
- Article by: DINESH RAMDE
- Associated Press
- December 11, 2012 - 8:43 PM
MADISON, Wis. - A state board voted Tuesday to limit a new law expanding hunting rights in state parks, after dozens of Wisconsin residents said they wouldn't feel safe visiting parks where hunters might be active.
The Natural Resources Board held a public meeting in Madison about Act 168, the so-called Sporting Heritage Bill that goes into effect Jan. 1. The law, with some restrictions, will allow hunting in virtually all state parks and state trails.
Tuesday's meeting came after residents inundated the Natural Resources Board in recent weeks with about 2,000 letters and emails, 96 percent criticizing the new law. That prompted the DNR to propose a compromise, suggesting in part that about one-third of state parkland area be exempted from the law.
The board approved that proposal, and went further by restricting the dates when hunting would be allowed. While the DNR had proposed allowing hunting in the remaining parks from mid-October to late May, the board limited hunting to one month in autumn and another in April.
Board Chair David Clausen said he believed hunters would approve of the compromise.
"I think once they understand it and see how it works they'll be happy," he said.
The vote came after three hours of spirited testimony from dozens of attendees, many of whom said hunters already have enough places to hunt without expanding to state lands as well.
Jeffrey Baylis, a hunter from Cross Plains, told the board the law wouldn't fuel interest in hunting, as the law's supporters suggested. He worried that people would blame hunters for a law that he said none of them sought.
"I have friends who are hunters and not a single one thinks this is good idea," he said. "I think this will fuel a general antipathy toward hunting."
Other residents said they worried about keeping their families and pets safe. Several said they love parks but would never go again if it meant having to hear gunfire or worry about their pets getting maimed or killed by animal traps.
The law does allow the DNR to prohibit hunting and the setting of traps in certain areas, such as within 100 yards of a trail or near campgrounds. Still, many speakers said that provided little comfort.
"My family is not opposed to hunting and trapping. We own guns, we hunt — just not in a state park," said Cynthia Gagan, of Cedarburg. "It is only a matter of time before people or pets are hurt by a stray bullet."
The public meeting drew a standing-room only crowd of about 100 people, 64 of whom registered to speak. After each had a turn, the board members debated several options — approving the DNR plan, rejecting it or accepting it with modifications.
Board members including William Bruins seemed content to preserve 2012 rules rather than implement Act 168 and its expansion on hunting in state parks. The board conferred with its legal counsel, Tim Andryk, who confirmed that the Legislature granted the board full authority to take whatever action it saw fit.
But DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp said the board should remember that lawmakers passed the law with the intent that hunting be expanded.
"Ours is not to debate what the elected officials decided," she said.
Clausen countered that lawmakers left ultimate decision-making power with the board.
While most of the attendees seemed to oppose any new hunting rules, some argued that concerns about safety were overblown. Bob Welch, who represented the Wisconsin Hunters Rights Coalition, said most hunters wouldn't bother going to areas where people would be around because there would be no game in the area. And other speakers countered arguments about the dangers of traps by holding up actual traps and attempting to demonstrate how they could be used without threatening pets.
The board — which oversees DNR policy — passed its measure 7-0.
Among the other rules approved by the board:
_ It will be illegal to shoot across a state trail.
_ All traps would have to be approved as safe for dogs.
_ Buckhorn State Park in Necedah and Governor Nelson State Park in Waunakee are off-limits for hunting because any proposed hunting sections would be too close to recreational areas.
Wisconsin Natural Resources Board: http://dnr.wi.gov/about/nrb
Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.
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