Monday, April 17, 2006

WISCONSIN OPINION: Keep the politics out of conservation science

By Ed Culhane
Gannett Wisconsin Newspapers

This column is an open letter to 10 members of the Wisconsin Legislature, those who serve on the the Joint Committee for the Review of Rules and Regulations:

Dear Sir or Madam:
On Tuesday, you will hear testimony and be called upon to make a decision, I believe, will have a profound impact on the future of hunting, fishing and trapping in Wisconsin.

I am writing — and please consider this my personal testimony — to ask that you restore common sense and wisdom to the process of setting deer hunting seasons.

Of even greater importance, perhaps, is the approach legislators take in making decisions that affect all of us. I am begging you to set an example. Please show us your vote doesn't belong to a single interest group, no matter how politically powerful. Please don't let this be about Democrats vs. Republicans.

We, have been fortunate in Wisconsin, especially those of us who, like Aldo Leopold, cannot live without wild things. Among Leopold's legacies is an enlightened system for establishing natural resources policy, a system that relies heavily on strong public involvement and on science-based resource management.

Programs for restoring fish populations, reintroducing extirpated species like elk or restoring habitat can take 10 or 20 years to prove themselves and don't lend themselves to the two-year cycle of election politics or to 180-degree turnarounds based on sudden bursts of public emotion.

That's why great Wisconsin leaders, including Leopold, advocated the creation of the Wisconsin Conservation Commission in 1928, now known as the Natural Resources Board. The board's citizen members, each appointed by the governor and confirmed by the legislature, serve long, staggered terms.

The board works with the state's biologists and other resource professionals to effectively manage and preserve fish and game populations and their habitats.

The board also works with hunting, fishing and conservation clubs across the state and with the Conservation Congress, which was specifically created as a means for hunters and fishermen to advise the board on policy.

It's not a perfect system, but it's the best damn system ever created.
It's the reason Wisconsin has some of the best deer hunting in the world.
It's the reason we can hunt wild turkeys in the spring and fall.
It's the reason Trout Unlimited, after a two-year study, named Wisconsin's trout management program the best in the nation.

It's the reason muskie fishing keeps getting better.
It's the reason we in Wisconsin are the proud stewards of the largest self-sustaining population of lake sturgeon in the world.

The system provides for checks and balances. The natural resource committees in the house and senate have oversight authority. These committees can object to a rule and negotiate changes.

But when the two committees, meeting jointly, objected to the 2006 deer season framework based on a power play by the Association of Wisconsin Snowmobile Clubs and refused a reasonable compromise, they did a disservice to all Wisconsin hunters.

The snowmobile organization argued — without evidence or logic — that four-day Zone T gun hunts during the second week of December would interfere with snowmobiling north of U.S. 8.

This argument would be laughable if it wasn't being used to take our rights away. First of all, there's no evidence hunting interferes with snowmobiling. Beyond that, only twice during the past 15 years, has there been enough snow on the ground that week to open snowmobile trails.

The board offered to limit the Zone T hunts to a bit more than half of the management units north of 8, but there was no appeasing the powerful snowmobile lobby.

So the committees suggested moving the late Zone T hunt to the week immediately following the traditional gun deer season. Not only would this not work in terms of deer herd reduction, but it would interfere with the muzzleloader season and make rule enforcement by wardens an impossible nightmare.

Wisely, the Natural Resources Board rejected this.
So now it's up to you. As members of the joint committee, you have the ability to end this nonsense. You can overturn the objection and allow the rule to stand.

You'd be voting in favor of science over innuendo. You'd be telling the state's hunters and anglers their rights are not for sale, not even for the votes the powerful snowmobile lobby can deliver.

I'm told such a vote would be unusual. But if it were to happen, it would be like opening the windows on a gorgeous April day and letting a fresh, cool breeze blow away weeks worth of stuffy, hot air.

Ed Culhane writes for The Post-Crescent of Appleton.

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