State GOP efforts to expand hunting irk opponents
MADISON — Wisconsin outdoorsmen spent most of the last decade chafing at the state Department of Natural Resources, accusing the agency of ruining hunting with overly strict regulations.
Republican Scott Walker told hunters on the campaign trail things would be different if he was elected governor, and two years later, it is. Walker and his fellow Republicans have reshaped Wisconsin's outdoors scene with an intense drive to expand hunting.
Some fees have been cut, hunting and trapping in state parks is now OK, wolves are now fair game and it's no longer necessary to shoot a doe before getting a buck. Supporters say the moves are important to shore up the $1.4 billion hunting industry as interest wanes among a younger generation.
"At the heart of it, legislators are truly trying to promote the hunting heritage, hopefully in perpetuity, so it doesn't die on the vine," said Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-Elkhorn, chairman of the Senate's natural resources committee.
But conservationists and hunting opponents say Republicans and the DNR have tried so hard to please hunters they've forgotten non-hunters such as hikers, skiers and birdwatchers.
"I don't really understand why, instead of promoting all these things, why aren't they promoting tourism or photography? They're just not diversifying at all," said Melissa Smith, organizer of the group Friends of Wisconsin Wolves. "Can't we encourage people to enjoy the outdoors without killing something?"
Hunting has always been part of the social and economic fabric in Wisconsin. But interest has been waning. According to DNR data, the hunting participation rate for adult males dropped 16 percent between 2000 and 2009. The youth participation rate declined about the same over that span.