Annual conservation meetings give unique opportunity for input

Jim Baumgart  Sheboygan County Supervisor

The annual DNR spring wildlife proposed rules hearings and annual Conservation Congress county meetings will take place in all 72 Wisconsin counties on Monday, April 8 at 7 p.m. These combined meetings allow the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Board to present fish and game rules for the public to provide input and it allows the Conservation Congress, citizens elected in every county, to present and vote on recommended regulation changes they would like. In Sheboygan County the joint meeting will take place at the Plymouth High School.

Although there have been changes over the years, this statewide system of requesting sportsmen and women, recreationists, environmentalists and others to provide direction began over 75 years ago and still continues today. No other state in the nation provides such a direct line where citizens can introduce their ideas and forward proposals to enhance outdoor recreation policy.

Controversial at times, these meetings have allowed everyone to participate and has limited the powerful special interests and political pressure groups on issues important to the whole outdoor community. To be sure, efforts have been made over the years to weaken this grassroots system and move much of the decisionmaking to the so-called Capitol’s “smoked filled back rooms” and powerful lobbying groups as their way of “streamlining ” the decision-making process. But these annual citizen meetings continue and promote the people’s interests and direction for the state’s natural resources.

One should take a moment to understand the reason for the spring hearings and its history. It came after years of legislatures and governors trying to set regulations for deer and other hunting seasons/harvests, fishing limits, forestry practices. That system did not work well and often did not have general public support - there were major failures. The public was unhappy and demanded change.

In 1934, Ralph Immell, conservation commissioner, appointed a committee to forward recommendations for increasing public involvement in resource management decisions. Committee members included the forefathers of game management in Wisconsin - UW Professor Aldo Leopold, Chief Warden Harley MacKenzie and Superintendent of Game William Grimmer.

Together they proposed a system of elected county committees to work with conservation wardens on game surveys and recommend season. Using this plan, the Conservation Department organized two meetings in each Wisconsin county to elect county committees and to evaluate game rules. Thus, it all began with a statewide meeting of the Conservation Congress the same year. The citizens of Wisconsin and the outdoor community finally had a major say in what direction fishing and hunting rules and regulations should take. It is our responsibility to ensure the people continue to have that right.

The legislature has begun to bypass the spring hearing process - passing laws that might fail badly if the general outdoor community had a say. A few examples include: allowing loaded guns on or against cars, no longer requiring cased shotguns and rifles while traveling, allowing night-time dogs to chase wolves through the north country, opening up hunting and trapping throughout the year in vast portions of our state parks, and the list goes on.

Spring hearings and citizen participation is important. It is a wonderful Wisconsin tradition. You can participate by coming to the Plymouth High School, Monday, April 8, 7 p.m.

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113 E. Mill St., Plymouth WI 53073
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