Changes needed in Wisconsin

Human beings have been facing extraordinary challenges in 2020, the likes of which most of us alive today have never faced.

But the environment is likewise facing extreme challenges, from CWD in the deer herd and VHS in fish, diseases killing oak and ash trees, shortages of clean water, draining of wetlands, loosening of environmental standards by the federal government, and loss of independence of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

      There are important underlying concerns, such as the loss of touch that today’s citizens have with natural resources (i.e. where meat and heat come from), and youngsters who would rather play indoors with video games than go outside.  Of course, the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree, and it seems there are many adults who would rather sit on the couch and watch football than go out and slog through a marsh to put out a dozen decoys or walk a mile to a deer stand.

      Just as concerning is the growing divide between those who hunt and those who do not hunt.  Some hunters seem to think that everything they do is acceptable, and they deride those who don’t hunt because they don’t buy a hunting, fishing or trapping license.

      That is evident in some of the letters to the editor in outdoor publications who deride non-hunters as “fools” who “understand nothing,” or constantly chastise natural resources employees and volunteers who are trying to find solutions to problems.  That type of name calling is defamatory, serves no purpose, and is sure to drive a wedge further between hunters and non-hunters.

     This is no different than racial bigotry, chastising someone due to their beliefs rather than color of their skin.

      People who are clad in blaze orange or camouflage have many reasons to be proud of what past hunters have done and how hunting, fishing and trapping have been the backbone of conservation in the United States.  Indeed, the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, called one of the greatest success stories in the world, realizes that what sportsmen have done with their license dollars and political support for conservation, has been responsible for abundance of many wildlife populations.

      But, take your blinders off and you’ll see that those who do not hunt or fish have also been active in the conservation field. Take a look at what organizations such as the Madison Audubon Society, The Prairie Enthusiasts or The Nature Conservancy have done to preserve native habitat and save rural land from being paved over and “developed” into housing sub-divisions.

      And, lest you weren’t paying attention during eighth-grade civics, you would have learned that in the United States wildlife belong to ALL the people, so everyone does have a right to have a say in how ducks, wolves, bears and all wildlife are managed. 

      The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that there were a little over 1-million waterfowl hunters in the U.S. during 2016. About the same time FWS estimated there were about 45 million birders in the U.S.:  There’s more of them than us!

      A major problem is that non-hunters haven’t had an easy way to provide financial help to the states and federal government.  Sure, you can say it’s easy to buy a hunting or fishing license; but if you don’t hunt or fish, why?

      States and the Feds need a product, license, or meaningful method for non-hunters to purchase so that money can go into the same state conservation fund as hunters and anglers.

      Is it that the state, and hunter interests, are afraid to let non-hunters “into the game” for fear they will grab more power?

      There is often a lot of concern about “anti-hunters,” and indeed there are people who don’t believe in hunting, fishing or trapping.  Some are strictly vegetarian.

      To those who are anti-harvest, they have the right to what they believe and they should be tolerated, but not bashed or persecuted.

      Indeed, the critical mass is the great majority in the middle who do not hunt or fish or trap, but realize the benefits and are willing to continue these outdoor traditions as long as they are ethically conducted and regulated by scientific management.  These are the people whom outdoorsmen need to pay more attention to.

      Both a person’s conduct in the outdoors, and just as important their conduct and “image” indoors at public meetings and events, and their letters to the editor, can turn those middle-ground supporters into a majority against hunting, fishing and trapping. The key to the future of outdoor sports is in the behavior and actions of today’s hunters, anglers and trappers.

      An official with the Montana Fish, wildlife and Parks Department said it well: “People are not necessarily concerned with the fact that we hunt, but rather how we hunt.”  He could have added the words: “How we represent ourselves as hunters to the public.”  

      Everyone should pay to protect natural resources!  We all need clean air and water, enjoy seeing eagles and herons, and walking in public wildlife management areas.  It is time that we all participated in funding these programs.

      People who hunt, fish and trap have paid much in licenses, stamps, excise taxes and donations to conservation organizations.

      But, it is time for a broad general funding mechanism for natural resources.  Missouri uses a percentage of the state sales tax and Minnesota showed it was light-years ahead of Wisconsin by establishing the Minnesota Legacy Fund.

      Minnesota was also light years ahead of Wisconsin because they banded hunters and non-hunters, (even a few of those “evil” art lovers), together to pass the increased tax.  They did it together!

      Wisconsin once used a penny-a-pack on cigarettes for purchasing land, and though legislators are shy about new taxes it is time for a way to pluck a downy feather from the public goose. The options are many, but something needs to be used. 

      We also need to return to an independent DNR and secretary selected by the Natural Resources Board. Then Governor Tommy Thompson upset the apple cart when he turned the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) into a cabinet agency.  Scott Walker put the nail in the coffin of the DNR by considering its mission as being “pro-business,” caving in to power-hungry northern politicians to eviscerate its science services bureau, and install a secretary who parroted the mantra that, “We can have business while having a clean environment,” which sounds good while DNR scientists and proposed pollution protections were shown the door.

      The DNR began leaking employees as they became eligible for retirement or grabbed by other agencies.  Exemplary employees the likes of Randy Stark, Paul DeLong, and Jack Sullivan are now long gone.

The DNR can no longer be independent of political influence as long as the governor appoints the secretary.

The citizen board was a far cleaner system and Missouri has the best system where three commissioners are of the conservative party and three are of the liberal party.  That way they HAVE to get together and board members often have a way of looking toward the long-term outlook of natural resources rather than the short-term vision of politicians who can only see as far as the next election.

      Wisconsin needs to change and allow the citizen Natural Resources Board to select the secretary, as it (and its predecessor the Conservation Commission) did from 1927 to the mid-1990s.  And if we want to improve the system, require that three Democrats and three Republicans always serve on the board, so that the legislature and governor would always have an open ear to listen to at least some of the board members.

      Wisconsin has a rich conservation history.  It has been home to Aldo Leopold, John Muir, Gaylord Nelson, Warren Knowles, Harley MacKenzie and Ernie Swift, C.D. “Buzz” Besadny, among others.

      Wisconsin is also where devoted volunteers, not so well known, work behind the scenes to improve natural resources. Look at the resumes of men and women now enshrined in the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame in Stevens Point.

      Volunteers and professional resources staff continually work with committees, boards, agencies, and organizations to protect and improve natural resources.  In the past they have made Wisconsin truly unique in natural resources, and what is needed is for those who hunt and those who do not to mend their ways, to work together on the bigger challenges faced today.

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