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Beyond 'hook and bullet?'
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I attended a Wisconsin Conservation Congress Outreach Committee meeting in Wautoma last week, and the drift of the conversation there leaves me a bit dazed. There was much talk about how the Congress should be more than about merely hunting, fishing and trapping. Really?

For more than 75 years, that is exactly what the Congress has been about. But it was only a matter of time, I suppose, before some social or environmental advocacy group decided it would be good for us to become more "inclusive." Diversity, it seems, must be a part of everyone's mantra - to the point where our values become so muddled as to become irrelevant.

So, let's see how a broader umbrella would work for the Congress. Take the spring hearings as an example, where the public has an opportunity to vote on various rule changes regarding fish and wildlife management. The questions on the ballot often times number into the 90s, always a challenge to say the least.

Last spring, for example, we voted on questions relating to the use of colony traps for muskrats, lead reduction in fishing tackle, allowing the hunting of predators over bait and requiring secondary gates on deer farms. Should we add to these issues questions on manure management, managed forest law rules or the price of season passes on bike trails? How many such issues can we reasonably entertain - 200, 300?

John "Duke" Welter, currently a member of the Natural Resources Board and a former delegate to the Conservation Congress, is one of those who would like to see a broader scope. "The protection of our natural resources goes well beyond hunters and fishermen," he argues. "There are lots of other groups out there, and they don't feel like they're welcome within the Congress."

He might be referring to Patricia Randolph, an avowed anti-hunting activist who frequently refers to hunters and trappers as "murderers." She brought in a group of like-minded individuals to the spring hearings a few years ago and got herself elected to the Congress from Dane County. "Some people don't feel welcome," she said at the September Natural Resources Board meeting in Wisconsin Rapids. Can't imagine why!

Randolph took the stage at the NRB meeting to rail against the lack of fairness in the election process for delegates to the Congress. She would prefer that larger metropolitan areas such as Madison and Milwaukee have more delegates since they have larger populations. How many would she like - a majority perhaps?

While members of the Congress suffered many indignities from Randolph's rude and disdainful attitude while she served out her term, she apparently has found the ear of board member Christine Thomas who suggests we make the election process more "organized, transparent, and therefore, more defensible."

This is the same NRB board member who has offered up (ironically) her own rather scornful remarks about hunters within the Chronic Wasting Disease Management Zone who, in her opinion apparently, do not kill enough deer. Here is one example as reported in Wisconsin Outdoor News in a discussion about purchasing the Buckhorn Flats deer farm where scores of CWD positives were discovered a few years ago.

"...if hunters in Wisconsin don't have the will to control their own actions to try to keep CWD contained," Thomas said, "clearly they should stand up and try to keep fences in place..."

As a hunter within the CWD MZ, I find it rather insulting that someone would accuse me and others of being out of control. Normally we would attribute such behavior to antisocial slobs, petty criminals and impulsive troublemakers. Apparently the description applies to deer hunters as well.

Growing weary of all the talk about diversity, I brought up Thomas' remarks at the committee meeting. "Oh, but she has a Ph.D. in wildlife management," Welter responded. And, therefore...

Delegates to the Conservation Congress have nothing to be ashamed of for being advocates for hunters, anglers and trappers. Instead, we should take great pride in upholding the conservation traditions that sparked the creation of the organization in the first place.

There are hundreds of organizations proclaiming a messianic concern for the environment. All of them combined, however, will never come close to the contributions made by the hook and bullet crowd who spend millions every year to create and nurture wildlife habitat, support responsible fish and game management practices and work to protect our natural resources.

A couple of years ago, Clint Byrnes, a long time delegate to the Congress from Dodge County, gifted me a belt buckle from the Congress' 50th anniversary celebration. No longer active, he wanted someone still involved to have it.

The buckle carries on its face the images of a deer, a fish and a bird. Likewise, the Conservation Congress logo displays a hunter and his dog, a deer, a duck and a writhing game fish, a clear reference to the purpose of the organization.

Hopefully, we will continue sharing those images with the next generation of sportsmen and women, thereby upholding the traditions that Byrnes and others have sustained for the past 75 years.

- Lee Fahrney is the Monroe Times outdoors writer and serves on the executive council of the Conservation Congress. He can be reached at (608) 967-2208 or at