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Deer stand proposal passes

Hunters in northern Wisconsin will be allowed to leave portable tree stands and blinds overnight on state-managed land beginning in the fall 2017 season.

The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board gave unanimous approval Wednesday to a motion recommending the change.

The initial proposal called for the change to be implemented on a three-year trial period, but the Board struck down that component with an amendment

Board members also passed an amendment limiting hunters to two overnight stands per county.

The new rule affects only land north of Highway 64 managed by the DNR. Under the rule, hunters will be allowed to leave strands or blinds overnight on state land from Sept. 1 to Jan. 31.

Keith Allen, Douglas County Board Supervisor, was elated by the NRB's decision to approved the rule change.

"I'm very surprised and very happy," he said. "Maybe grassroots efforts do work."

Douglas County was among the leaders in the effort to change the rule.

The Douglas County Board of Supervisors supported the proposed change and passed a resolution endorsing it in March. The Douglas County Fish and Game League passed a resolution of support in February.

George Meyer, representing the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, recognized the county's contributions Wednesday in Madison.

"One of our affiliates, the Douglas County Fish and Game League, was very instrumental in the last couple of years to get this issue on the ballot," Meyer said. "This is a very important issue to them."

He noted that in Douglas County, hunters are permitted to leave blinds and stands on county land overnight. The practice has been in place for two decades without issue.

"They have the county forests, the state forests and the national forests in their county. They see this discrepancy, and this is very confusing," Meyer said.

Both the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and Douglas County strongly supported the rule change.

The measure did face some opposition, though.

At Wednesday's meeting, the Wisconsin Conservation Congress stood against the proposal.

"It's not often that the Congress position is contrary to public vote gathered at the spring hearings," said Larry Bonde, speaking on behalf of the group. "However, in this rare instance the Conservation Congress stands before you today opposing the two separate items in this rule package."

The Congress opposed the overnight stand/blind measure as well as a separate item seeking to change hunting regulation terminology from "hunting hours" to "shooting hours."

Following discussion, both items passed unanimously.

Bonde offered no objection to the overnight stand rule itself but said Congress delegates felt the "wording of the Department question fell short" and may have caused confusion for voters.

The Conservation Congress recommended putting the question to voters again with a clear choice to support or oppose the overnight placement of hunting stands and blinds.

"I was really surprised the Conservation Congress didn't support it," Allen said.

Scott Loomans, DNR wildlife regulation policy specialist, said the overnight stand proposal was brought forward after two years of consistent support from voters at Wisconsin's annual spring hearings.

"It's not just that we had an idea and asked it this year," Loomans said. "It's something that we've been working on for a while."

In both 2015 and 2016, the majority of voters supported a proposed rule to allow the overnight placement of temporary stands and blinds on state land north of Highway 64.

At the 2016 spring hearings, Douglas County voted 21-5 in support of the rule change without a sunset clause. Voters supported the same rule, but on a three-year trial period, by a margin of 14-12.

In 2015, Douglas County supported the overnight placement of stands for gun deer seasons 21-9.

Of the 22 counties directly impacted by the rule change, 15 voted in favor of it on a three-year trial basis during the 2016 spring hearings. Five northern counties opposed the new rule, and two ended in a tie vote.