A proposal to allow the hunting of tundra swans, along with a rule to allow hunters to retrieve hound dogs on private property without landowner permission, are shaping up as two of the most controversial questions before state outdoors users Monday.
The annual meetings of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress (WCC) — held simultaneously in all 72 counties — will also ask attendees about creating a hunting season for the white deer and eliminating all trapping hours restrictions.
In total, 58 questions are on the WCC spring questionnaire and results will be used to advise the Department of Natural Resources and the Natural Resources Board on policy changes. State law mandates that WCC resolutions must be considered when new legislation is written.
Many conversation groups are already raising red flags about the tundra swan hunt. The issue there is that hunters may mistake the large birds for the once endangered trumpeter swans.
Earlier this month, the Madison Audubon Society Board voted unanimously against a swan hunt because of the “high probability that trumpeter swans will be mistaken for tundra swans and killed, after Wisconsin conservationists successfully worked for many years to re-introduce trumpeters.” They are now breeding in Wisconsin and were removed from the state endangered list in 2009.
The hunt would also disrupt the spring bird-watching season and the tourism dollars it provides, Audubon warns.
The hunting dog question is causing worries for those who say it’s a trampling of property rights in the name of a limited number of bear hunters and wolf hunters who rely on dogs to track prey. Dog owners are already compensated if their animals are killed during a hunt, a controversial issue in its own right.
“Allowing hound hunters unencumbered access to private lands just because they can’t control their dogs seems to me like it would raise the ire of the citizenry at large,” says Brook Waalen, a WCC delegate from Luck in Polk County.
Waalen is among a growing number of WCC delegates representing silent sports advocates and so-called “non-consumptive” outdoor enthusiasts.
Each county gets five delegates, who are elected at the meetings and serve two-year terms on a staggered basis.
Long dominated by the “hook and bullet” crowd, the WCC is now feeling pressure from a wider outdoors constituency that wants more of a say in DNR policy. A proposal to expand hunting and trapping in state parks, along with establishing a wolf hunting season, were flashpoint issues last year that brought many to the hearings for the first time.
Last year, more than 100 environmental advocates showed up at the Polk County meeting to help elect Waalen.
Dane County and Milwaukee County in the past have elected anti-hunting activists as delegates to the Conservation Congress. Last year, wolf defender Melissa Smith was elected as a Dane County delegate.
Jason Dorgan of Blue Mounds will be seeking election Monday night as a delegate at the meeting at Middleton High School’s Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. Dorgan enjoys running on the trails in the state parks and was upset by the proposal to expand hunting in those public areas.
“This state has 6 million acres of land for hunters and trappers to use even before the recent expansion into the state park system,” he says. “There has always been limited hunting in state parks and that has always seemed reasonable to me. “
Dorgan says as he learned more about the WCC and its interests he became more disappointed in the direction it was leading the state.
“Whether it is some of the cruel practices they condone or the lack of true land stewardship, I would like to bring another perspective to the Congress,” he says.
The swan hunting issue is a particularly tricky one.
According to the WCC ballot question, tundra swan population numbers are rising, even with hunting in other states. Tens of thousands of them migrate through Wisconsin with population counts over 30,000 on the Mississippi River.
“Wisconsin could benefit from allowing a hunt unique to very few other states,” the WCC ballot says.
The WCC maintains there is little chance of mixing up the two birds because tundra swans tend to gather in big groups on large bodies of water whereas trumpeter swans gather in smaller groups and prefer ponds or marshes.
But the Sun Prairie-based Wisconsin Wildlife Public Trust says the push to expand hunting to more and more species runs counter to the ethic of famed conservationist Aldo Leopold.
“If Aldo were to look at the ballot questions today, our guess is that he would be greatly disappointed with the current trend of the WCC in wanting to ‘take’ from land & water resources versus ‘give’ or ‘restore’ ” the group says in a posting on its website.
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