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Now it's time to address the real threat
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Now that we have flogged every last piece of hide off the dead horse involving DNR secretary appointment authority, it's time to focus on the real 800-pound gorilla threatening our hunting, fishing and trapping heritage.

The dilemma concerns land purchases made through the Stewardship Program which supposedly guarantees access to those lands for the purposes of hunting, fishing and trapping.

The Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program was reauthorized by the 2007 Wisconsin Act 20 (budget act) until June 30, 2020. The law stipulated that land thus acquired must remain open to several nature-based outdoor activities to include hunting, fishing and trapping.

The DNR was tasked with providing lists of all stewardship land for which public access had been prohibited or restricted and the reason for the restriction or prohibition. The bill also called for the Joint Finance Committee to review the purchases. However, an amendment to the 2009-2011 budget bill watered down these protections.

The one element that remains securely intact is the increase in spending for land purchases. Beginning July 1, 2010, the annual bonding (borrowing) authority will be $86 million per year. That's on top of the money already borrowed, the debt for which is quickly approaching $1 million per week.

Now, it appears, those having little time for the hook and bullet crowd will have an opportunity to further circumvent the law. The devil is in the details of the administrative rule required to carry out the program - now up for final review in the legislature.

Sandy Heidel of Onalaska and Larry Bonde, a Wisconsin Conservation Congress delegate from Sheboygan County, served on the 29-member Stewardship Advisory Committee charged with writing the administrative rule.

From the beginning, according to Bonde, the deck was stacked. "... sporting groups were clearly outnumbered," he said of the CAC in an op-ed piece in the Feb. 19 issue of Wisconsin Outdoor News.

"When the rule was finally written, it was clear to me that DNR Deputy Secretary Pat Henderson, who chaired the CAC, cared little about sportsmen's concerns, since much of what we thought was important in this rule ... was disregarded."

Here are some of the ways the law has been corrupted. The law allows for exceptions if the Natural Resources Board determines it is necessary to prohibit or restrict one or more of the nature-based activities (guess which ones) to protect public safety, protect unique animal or plant communities, or to accommodate other usership patterns.

According to Bonde, the rules target fishing, hunting and trapping as prime candidates for restriction or prohibition. To prove his point, he cites as examples purchases made during the interim protocol, using "unique animal communities" as the ruse.

According to Bonde, the grant recipients of a purchase on the Mink River Estuary in Door County used the presence of muskrat and beaver as a unique animal community. Anther purchase request in the Military Ridge area of southwestern Wisconsin listed coyotes as unique. In the Baraboo area, a Nature Conservancy purchase application stated that bears "may be present," and are therefore in need of protection.

Said Bonde, "Since when does Wisconsin manage bears, coyotes and beavers as unique animal communities?"

Bonde also claims the law provided that any new purchases added to existing Stewardship-funded properties should be reviewed for restrictions and prohibitions. Instead, he said, the rule will allow any restrictions attached to the previously purchase property to carry over.

He also warns the administrative rule allows land trusts to purchase land, turn it over to a nearby municipality, which may then declare it off limits to hunting, fishing and trapping.

In addition to the Wisconsin Outdoor News op-ed piece, Heidel and Bonde recently submitted a letter to Gov. Jim Doyle urging him to exercise his authority to "withdraw these rules and modify them before resubmitting them to the legislature."

According to the letter, the rules brought forward would allow grant recipients to set access restrictions and prohibitions that do not reflect legislative intent or the agreement reached with legislative leaders in 2007.

"Please exercise your authority over this agency and these rules on behalf of sportsmen and women and withdraw and modify their language to bring them into compliance with the reauthorizing language you negotiated in good faith," the letter asks.

By following this process throughout the Stewardship Advisory Committee deliberations, I have come to appreciate the strong leadership these two individuals have provided. I know of no others more genuine in their concern for the interests of Wisconsin's sportsmen and women. Let us hope their efforts are not in vain.

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