The public will be presented with 63 issues ranging from walleye limits to wolf management at the 2022 Department of Natural Resources spring hearings and county meetings of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress.
For the third consecutive year, contributions will be collected online only. In-person events were canceled during planning earlier this year due to health concerns related to COVID-19.
This year’s questionnaire will be open from April 11 at 7 p.m. to April 14 at 7 p.m.
Conclaves, commonly referred to as Spring Hearings, allow the public to vote on a wide variety of topics affecting conservation and the environment in Wisconsin.
The process is part of the foundation of Wisconsin’s heritage of public involvement in conservation. The WCC was formed in 1934 and approved in 1972 by state law as the public liaison to the DNR and the Natural Resources Council.
The annual meetings are unique in the country; five delegates are elected from each county in Wisconsin to provide local representation on the WCC, and once a year the public is invited to provide input on issues.
While in odd years some items are submitted as proposed rule changes, all of the items presented this year are advisory. As such, they help inform MNR, the Natural Resources Council and elected officials of public sentiment on topics.
With sufficient support, an advisory question can come back as a rule change or be taken up by the Legislative Assembly to formulate a law.
The WCC adopted online voting just a few years ago and it has allowed spring hearings to continue during the pandemic.
It also generally increased attendance, including a record entry of 64,943 people in 2020.
Interest in this year’s ballot is expected to be high due to several issues, including limits for walleye, deer farms and wolf management, which are generally contentious.
The WCC will submit 45 questions, while the DNR will submit 16 (10 fisheries and six wildlife species) and NRB members will submit two.
Among the DNR’s fishing questions, he’ll ask: Should the statewide daily walleye bag limit be three fish? It is currently five, although some regions and waters have lower limits.
The Winnebago system, for example, recently saw its walleye limit drop from five to three, and lakes in ceded territory in northern Wisconsin are mostly set at three.
Although earlier this year a federal district court ruling placed the gray wolf of Wisconsin and most states under the protection of endangered species law, the DNR continues to work on an update to the Wisconsin wolf management plan.
The existing plan was drafted in 1999 and amended in 2007; he set a management goal of 350 wolves.
One of the key features of the updated plan should be the number of wolves (or another metric to assess the wolf population and guide management decisions) it sets as a state goal.
The last statewide wolf population estimate was made in late winter 2020; he estimated that Wisconsin had about 1,150 wolves.
A 2014 public attitude survey conducted by the DNR found that most Wisconsin residents favored maintaining the state’s wolf population at the time, about 700 wolves.
No more recent effort has been made to gauge public support for wolves in the state.
The WCC will ask: Do you support a population management goal of 350 wolves or less for Wisconsin?
Two WCC advisory questions advanced to this year’s ballot after being supported by a majority of citizens in at least three of the same counties for at least two consecutive years.
The first deals with the use of dogs to hunt wolves. Wisconsin law allows the practice, but opponents argue it amounts to state-sanctioned dog fighting.
The audience will be asked: Would you ban the use of dogs to hunt wolves in Wisconsin if wolves were delisted again?
The other issue to come out of the citizen resolutions concerns so-called “killing contests,” events in which participants compete based on the number of animals killed or other factors.
Species targeted by these contests include coyotes, rabbits, bobcats and foxes.
The DNR does not monitor or regulate competitions, but seven states have banned “competition killing,” according to the question’s preamble.
The question will ask: Do you support the Conservation Congress working with the WDNR to develop and support a ban on all wildlife killing contests?
Chronic wasting disease continues to spread throughout Wisconsin, including through the transfer of captive deer between farms.
For the past decade, the Department of Commerce, Agriculture, and Consumer Protection has allowed most of the state’s chronic wasting disease-positive deer farms to remain open and in operation.
The audience will be asked: Do you support or oppose the presence of captive cervid operations (deer farms and game preserves) in Wisconsin?
A number of never-before-seen citizen resolutions will also be made available to voters in select counties.
The public can preview the questions at dnr.wi.gov/about.wcc. The 2022 entry form will allow votes beginning at 7 p.m. on April 11 and will remain open for 72 hours.
Fishing clinics for children
The 37th Annual Free Spring Fishing Clinics for Kids will take place on Saturday, April 9 in 12 public waters in southeastern Wisconsin. Events will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and will include instruction in water safety, fishing techniques and tying followed by fishing in stocked lagoons or ponds.
The clinics are sponsored by the Wisconsin Council of Sport Fishing Organizations; Milwaukee, Washington and Waukesha County Parks; and the Hunger Task Force Fish Hatchery. For more information, call (414) 416-0591 or (414) 263-8494.