No modern political party has injected politics into Wisconsin’s hunting and wildlife-management programs like Republicans during Gov. Scott Walker’s administration, and yet several GOP leaders in key natural-resources positions have feeble credentials as license-buying, game-harvesting hunters.
Harsh? Not really. When Walker ran for governor in 2010, he touted “Scott’s Plan” for deer hunting. He promised voters he would appoint a “deer trustee” to revise the state’s deer hunting program, and told crowds, “Like most sportsmen, I’m tired of sitting in a deer stand all day and not seeing any deer.”
During the 2010 and 2014 races, as well as the recall election in 2012, “Sportsmen for Walker” signs were common statewide.
The GOP even institutionalized litmus tests for the outdoors. After taking office in 2011, Walker and his party passed Act 149, which requires at least three members of the seven-citizen Natural Resources Board to have held a hunting, fishing or trapping license in at least seven of the 10 years before they were nominated to serve. That policy took effect in May 2017 for the NRB, which sets policy for the Department of Natural Resources.
You’d think folks setting such standards would have impeccable qualifications themselves. But an open-records review of license purchases and game-registration files shows Walker himself wouldn’t have qualified for one of those license-based NRB seats until three years ago. He didn’t buy his first hunting license until March 2007, and didn’t fish until buying his first all-inclusive conservation patron license in March 2010.
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That standard also would have disqualified Cathy Stepp, who served as Walker’s DNR secretary from January 2011 through August 2017. Stepp didn’t buy a hunting, fishing or trapping license from 2003 through 2010. She then bought a fishing license, and hunting licenses for deer, turkeys and geese in March 2011, roughly two months after taking control of the agency the NRB oversees.
Unlike Walker – who has yet to register a deer in Wisconsin despite being licensed to do so every year from 2007 through 2017 – Stepp shot deer three straight years from 2011 to 2013. She added a turkey to her kills in May 2016.
Although Walker and Stepp would now qualify for any NRB seat, Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, does not. Tiffany, chairman of the Senate Committee on Sporting Heritage, Mining and Forestry, has owned hunting or fishing licenses only five times since 2004. He bought no licenses from 2009 through 2014, and none in 2017.
And even though only two of Tiffany’s licenses included deer hunting privileges, he felt qualified to lead efforts to eliminate earn-a-buck rules and October gun-deer hunts statewide in 2011. Earlier this year, he also helped relax baiting-feeding bans for deer hunting.
Even so, one of Tiffany’s cheerleaders is Mukwonago’s Greg Kazmierski, who’s been widely regarded by DNR staff as Wisconsin’s true “deer czar” since Gov. Walker appointed him to the NRB in 2011. “Kaz” is credited with getting the governor to appoint Texas’ James Kroll as Wisconsin’s deer trustee in 2012, and then rewriting deer regulations to his liking once Kroll went home.
Still, no one can look at Kaz’s license-buying history and lump him in with Stepp and Walker as a politically expedient deer hunter. He’s registered seven deer in 11 seasons since 2007, and bought gun and archery deer licenses annually since the state began tracking sales electronically in 1999.
But Kaz is no “hunting and fishing fool” – a compliment among outdoors-folks. He hasn’t bought a turkey license since 2005 or a small-game license since 2002, and never fished from 2001 through 2012. He even qualified for a $5 first-timer’s fishing license in 2013, but hasn’t fished since.
Current DNR Secretary Daniel Meyer, who replaced Stepp in September, has more diverse outdoors interests. Judging by his license purchases, Meyer routinely fishes. He also regularly hunts small game, including waterfowl and wild turkeys, but seems more casual about deer. Meyer bought an archery-deer license in 2003, never registered a deer from 2007 through 2016, and didn’t buy a gun-deer license in 2005, 2006, 2008, 2015 and 2016. However, Meyer killed a deer in November.
That brings us to Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, chairman of the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources and Sporting Heritage. Given the modest overall credentials of the GOP’s aforementioned outdoors team, one might mistakenly think Kleefisch is trying to single-handedly boost the party’s hunting credibility.
He’s kept his hunting knife bloody since buying his first small-game license in 2003 and his first deer license in 2004. I say that with respect. Since the DNR began tracking individual harvest data on whitetails, wild turkeys and Canada geese in 2007, Kleefisch has registered 19 deer, 39 turkeys and 236 geese. Those aren’t misprints.
Further, by my unofficial tally, Kleefisch has spent $2,577 on tags, licenses and associated fees since 1999. Few of his fellow legislators can rival such numbers.
Unfortunately, Kleefisch likely leads the Legislature in game violations, too. The DNR cited him in 2013 for registering a deer too late, and cited him again in 2016 for overbagging turkeys when accidentally killing two with one shot. He also received three warnings for previous turkey- and goose-hunting violations.
One thing these GOP leaders seldom do, however, is donate extra money to state-run conservation efforts such as the Cherish Wisconsin Outdoors Fund, venison and turkey processing fund, or the endangered species or aquatic invasive species programs. Kazmierski donated $10 to Cherish Wisconsin in 2016. Walker gave $10 to general fish and wildlife funding in 2011; and twice contributed to venison processing, giving $1 in 2009 and $20 in 2010. The rest combined to give $0.
And just so you know, DNR records credit me with 12 deer registrations since 2007; 18 straight years of buying a patron’s license and extra tags for $2,602.50; and $49 in donations to the venison processing, fish and wildlife, Cherish Wisconsin and aquatic invasive species programs.
Does any of that make me special? Of course not. But I’m also not the one who uses hunting for political gain.
I’m just reporting it.