Sandhill cranes. Image by Ettrujillo2 from Pixabay
Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, with the support of the lobbying group Hunter Nation, released a slate of 13 bills on Wednesday that aim to expand hunting in Wisconsin and weaken the power of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
The bills aim to expand opportunities for Wisconsinites to hunt and fish different animals while curtailing the control the DNR has over conservation policy in the state. All summer, Republican lawmakers and Hunter Nation have been engaged in a coordinated effort to undermine the DNR’s efforts under Gov. Tony Evers and Secretary Preston Cole to move the department in a more environmentally conscious direction.
The bills will allow the hunting of sandhill cranes and farm-raised bovidae — hooved animals such as bison, sheep and antelopes — as well as changing the hunting seasons for wild turkeys and stocking more pheasants to be hunted. The bills would also increase the amount of fish that are stocked in public and private waterways across the state.
Other bills will affect how the DNR can regulate hunting in the state.
One bill, sponsored by Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) and Rep. Calvin Callahan (R-Tomahawk), will require the DNR to eliminate three hunting rules every time it tries to create a new one. Current hunting rules set seasons, size limits and other conditions for allowing hunting while conserving animal populations. Another bill, sponsored by Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) and Rep. Alex Dallman (R-Green Lake), would require the DNR to consolidate or eliminate some of the licenses it requires for hunting and fishing certain species.
The slate of bills also includes a proposal to scale back regulations over where and when people can carry weapons in Wisconsin. The bill would allow people to carry a concealed weapon without being issued a concealed carry license by the Wisconsin Department of Justice or a law enforcement identification card. It also eliminates a law that prevents people from carrying firearms, crossbows or other weapons while riding all-terrain vehicles and prevents local governments from prohibiting weapons on mass transit.
Republican lawmakers in the Senate and Hunter Nation have been working together to retain a Republican majority on the Natural Resources Board — the body that sets policy for the DNR. An appointee of former Gov. Scott Walker has refused to step down from his seat even though his term expired May 1 and his replacement has been nominated by Evers.
A lobbyist for Hunter Nation has been working with the board member, Wausau dentist Frederick Prehn, encouraging him to resist political pressure to step aside while the lobbying group and Republican lawmakers attempted to intervene in a lawsuit that aimed to remove Prehn. Republican leaders in the Senate have refused to hold a confirmation hearing for Prehn’s replacement.
While conservation policies in areas as varied as logging and chemical regulation are contentious in Wisconsin, nothing is more polarizing than the fight over wolf hunting in the state. A Wisconsin state law requires a wolf hunt to be held whenever the animal isn’t listed as endangered by the federal government. In 2020 the wolf was delisted by the administration of President Donald Trump. Since then, environmental activists have clashed with hunters and some residents in Northern Wisconsin over the ability to hunt wolves in Wisconsin, with the DNR often moving to limit when and how many wolves can be hunted.
Hunter Nation has been a prominent part of the push for more wolf hunting in the state and the political fight over the issue is central to the release of these bills, according to a release.
“Governor Evers and his DNR haven’t shown good leadership in any aspect for Wisconsin outdoorsmen and women,” Sen. Rob Stafsholt (R-New Richmond) said in a statement. “Over and over again, the DNR has made it clear that they won’t listen to rural Wisconsin citizens’ concerns, so we’re taking a stand with this legislative package. We’re telling hunters, anglers, trappers, and gun owners that we’ve got their backs and we’re defending our rights for transparency, simplified regulations, and improved access to our state’s natural resources.”
The bills in what Republicans are calling the “Wisconsin Sporting Freedom Package” have begun to be circulated for co-sponsorship.
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