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Hunters buck deer policies
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LA CROSSE - In his address at the Wisconsin Conservation Congress annual convention last week, Department of Natural Resources Secretary Matt Frank referred to democracy as "noisy."

Frank should know. He was the target de jour at the legislative hearings held in Madison last month when hundreds of sportsmen and women descended on the Capitol in an angry protest of the agency's deer management policies. The discussion was a bit more subdued at the convention, but differences of opinion were readily apparent.

If I had to pick one issue that should be on the front burner of everybody's camp stove, it would be concern over access to public lands purchased through the Stewardship Fund. A committee of stakeholders has met several times with the apparent goal of consensus. Unfortunately, the outcome has been a couple of bluegills shy of the daily bag limit.

And the legislature isn't helping much. The latest red flag comes from Senator Mark Miller (D-Monona) who recently entered a motion to delete some important clauses in the reauthorization bill. The motion includes the following changes:

• delete the requirement for a directory of all stewardship land that is open for public access

• delete the requirement for a report to the legislature identifying all lands acquired using stewardship funds prior to Oct. 27, 2007, for which public access has been restricted or prohibited and the reason for the restriction

• change the requirement for a report to the Joint Finance Committee that lists all stewardship land acquired during the preceding fiscal year where public access is prohibited or restricted and the reason for the prohibition from an annual report to a biennial report

• specify that, if a stewardship project proposal is subject to review by the JFC, the proposal is approved unless a majority of committee members present at the meeting vote to modify or deny the proposal.

These safeguards are essential, according to Sandy Heidel of Onalaska, who serves on the Citizen Advisory Committee on Stewardship Access.

"There is no reason that this info is not on file at DNR and that it can't be make available to the public," she said. "It was agreed to as part of the reauthorization. Other states do this and it is quite handy to know where all the public hunting and trapping opportunities are."

Larry Bonde, WCC delegate from Manitowoc County, also serves on the committee. He urges tracking of stewardship purchases at the local level.

"These purchases are made without a lot of advanced knowledge," he said. "The devil is in the details. There might be restrictions that really limit access."

The stakes are high. DNR purchases run $30,000 per month on average. The DNR owns approximately 1.4 million acres of land in Wisconsin with a goal of 2.5 million acres. Debt limits rose to $85 million per year as part of the reauthorization effort, with debt service running $1 million per week by 2011, according to Legislative Audit Bureau data provided to Rep. Donald Friske (R-Merrill) last year.

"I am concerned with the ability of the state to pay for and manage the land it has acquired and the land it plans to acquire," said Friske in 2007.

Former DNR Secretary George Meyer and current Executive Director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Foundation shares the concern. He has grumbled repeatedly about the need for improved management of public-owned land in Wisconsin.

Meyer has urged an increase in the state sales tax to cover the cost. The Conservation Congress obliged at the convention, voting to recommend an eighth of a percent increase.

Serious discussions notwithstanding, the convention was a great time to chat with other outdoors folks and celebrate a little. My house mouse buddy came up for the Friday night awards banquet to share in the fun. She looked on as WCC Chair Edgar Harvey presented me with the "Heavy Lifter Award" to the delegate contributing the most to the organization during the past year - a nice surprise.

She was rather ho-hum to all the hoopla, but perked up when service pins were handed out to several veteran delegates. When Green County delegate Richard Ammon came forward to receive his 20-year pin, she blurted out, "I think we doubled dated with him and Janice Anderson when we were in high school.

Now she's into it, collaring the poor man afterwards to confirm her suspicions. To my surprise, he remembered the event, a Milwaukee Braves baseball doubleheader in which Walter Alston of the Los Angeles Dodgers was thrown out of the game. Where did he come up with that?

There were other side conversations. Lafayette County delegate Paul Mau of Gratiot was chatting with Matt Frank learning that Frank's father worked as a dispatcher for the railroad in Gratiot during the 1940s. Frank hopes to bring his father down this summer to see the depot now being restored.

While there, Steve Staver heard from Tom Jean of Darlington, saying he had just boated a 47-inch musky at Yellowstone Lake. Mike Staggs, DNR Fisheries Management Bureau Director, heard about it, leading to discussions of the fine fishing available at the lake and Staggs involvement with creel counts he and Fish Biologist Bradd Sims completed last year.

The convention was one of those good-time-was-had-by-all events. Regarding public access and land management, however, there is that worrisome roar of a runaway train about to jump the tracks.

-Lee Fahrney is The Monroe Times outdoors writer. He can be reached at (608) 967-2208 or at