WCC preps for Spring HearingsThe Wisconsin Conservation Congress held its first Executive Council meeting of the year, Jan. 4-5, 2013, in Wausau. The group carved through dozens of public recommendations from last year’s spring hearings, received up-to-the-minute reports from the DNR’s top biologists and chewed on the latest observations and insight from each of the Congress’ 12 district representatives.
By: By Lee Fahrney, Superior Telegram
Wausau, Wis. – The Wisconsin Conservation Congress held its first Executive Council meeting of the year, Jan. 4-5, 2013, in Wausau. The group carved through dozens of public recommendations from last year’s spring hearings, received up-to-the-minute reports from the DNR’s top biologists and chewed on the latest observations and insight from each of the Congress’ 12 district representatives. The group voted to add a total of 38 citizen-submitted suggestions to this year’s spring hearings questionnaire and approved a 37-page report on a new strategic plan that will carry the Congress through the next five years.
Councilors left no stone unturned as they debated the merits of each resolution, questioned DNR experts on their analysis of fish and wildlife status and praised the work of the strategic planning committee led by UW-Extension facilitator Art Lersch.
A proposal from the Congress’ Fur Harvest committee to open up bobcat hunting and trapping statewide drew lively discussion about current bobcat quotas and season structure. Several district reps have gotten an earful from their constituents regarding the DNR decision to lower quotas.
District 2 representative Dave Hraychuck of Polk County serves as vice chair of the WCC Fur Harvest committee. “They aren’t real happy about the quota,” said Hraychuck. He also reports complaints from those who believe there are significant harvest opportunities below Hwy 64 that will have no negative biological impact on bobcats.
Hraychuck puts much faith in reports from trappers in particular. “The diehard trappers are seeing them all the time, noting that trappers are the ones who are most likely to have a handle on population levels.”
DNR furbearer specialist John Olson acknowledges that reports have been coming in from throughout the state regarding the presence of bobcats. But the scientific data dispute that bobcat populations are on the rise, he said. He points to a decline in female bobcat pregnancy rates based on necropsy data. He also notes that success rates have gone up recently.
According to a WDNR response to a recent query from WCC delegate Laurie Groskopf, “Low success means an upward adjustment in permits issued, relative to the quota. High success means a declining adjustment in permits issued.”
As DNR liaison to the WCC Fur Harvest committee, Olson has much data to offer regarding bobcat research. Along with other trapping issues, he will be discussing a recent scientific report at an open forum at the Mead Wildlife Area at Milladore, Feb. 16 from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The forum is hosted by the DNR and Conservation Congress and is open to the public.
Several items on this year’s questionnaire address bag limits on several Wisconsin waterways. “We’ve been getting calls for restrictions on panfish in some of our lakes,” said District 1 representative Joe Weiss of Spooner who also serves as chair of the Warm Water committee. “The concern is about an overharvest of bluegills and crappies.
“They’re targeting the large panfish during late ice when they’re most vulnerable,” he reports.” It gets closer to the spawn time, and they seem to congregate. With the technology we have today, they’re easier to find and are being exploited,” he adds. The questionnaire will ask for support of reduced bag limits on bluegills and/or crappies from 25 to 10 on Allequash Lakes in Vilas County, Lake Wausau in Marathon County and Chequamegon waters in Taylor County.
Other Congress proposals for the Spring Hearings questionnaire:
Start all trapping seasons on the same date.
End the December antlerless hunt.
Remove back tag requirements.
Allow hunting feral pigs year round with any hunting license.
Liberalize rules for using minnows on VHS waters.
Change the pheasant opening time to 9:00 a.m.
Transfer a Class A bear license to an Armed Forces member or Purple Heart recipient.
Support the DNR proposal to open state parks to hunting/trapping from Oct. 15 to the Thursday prior to Memorial Day.
The DNR will offer 32 fisheries questions/proposals at the Spring Hearings, many of which passed through the process on the Conservation Congress side previously. One proposal would prohibit the use of sinkers, weights and jigheads weighing less than one ounce or that are less than one inch in any dimension on Escanaba, Nebish and Pallette lakes. All three lakes are experimental waters in Vilas County.
According to DNR Fisheries Policy Specialist Kate Strom Hiorns, this is the first time for a limitation on lead tackle. A similar question on the Congress side of the questionnaire passed by a slim margin in 2010 – 1980 in favor and 1818 against.
Vilas County delegate Russ Warye believes that not only Wisconsin, but the entire country is moving toward a non-lead tackle environment. “Personally, I don’t have any opposition to going with non-leaded tackle on the (three) lakes,” Warye said. “I see it as a similar situation to the restriction for water fowl hunting.”
Now retired from his job as senior research editor for Fishing Hotspots of Rhinelander, Wis., he serves as secretary on the Conservation Congress Warm Water committee and has been following the trend in other locations. “The Quetico (Canadian side of the Boundary Waters) went no lead in 2010, as did some other Canadian waters,” Warye notes.
Joe Weiss agrees the trend is toward non-lead, but points out some disadvantages. “It’s not as heavy as lead,” he suggests. “It takes a bigger sinker for the same amount of weight.”
He also notes that non-leaded tackle hasn’t been widely publicized. “It’s not in the public consciousness yet to demand it,” Weiss said. He notes that anglers have accumulated large amounts of lead tackle and are reluctant to get rid of it. “Guys have tackle boxes full of lead stuff.”
Other fisheries proposals would:
Simplify rough fish spearing seasons.
Apply Northern Bass Zone catch and release season to smallmouth bass only.
Allow motor trolling on all inland waters (Congress advisory in 2012: 1928 in favor, 1576 against)
Apply alternate bag and size limits using public notice and information meetings.
Speed up ceded territory bag and length limits adjustments (currently 3rd week of May).
Apply 54” muskie limit on Lake Michigan.
A total of 33 wildlife questions and proposals will be up for consideration at the Spring Hearings. Questions/proposals would:
Expand open water hunting opportunities on various state waters.
Offer various options for training hunting dogs for wolves.
Increase the pheasant hunting fee at Bong SRA.
Eliminate the closed season at Mecon Springs refuge.
Allow overnight placement of blinds and stands on DNR land.
Simplify trapping regulations with more consistent opening dates.
Reduce the size of the Horicon Zone.
Lee Fahrney serves on the Executive Committee of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress.