It’s been 14 years since Wisconsin raised the price of many hunting and fishing licenses, stamps and application fees, and some haven’t been touched since 1997.
Despite pleas for small fee increases in recent years from the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, the Wisconsin Conservation Congress and other sporting and conservation groups, the legislature instead let the Department of Natural Resources reduce projects, services and enforcement.
DNR staffing levels hit a 30-year low under Gov. Scott Walker, with hundreds of positions eliminated. Critics said the very agency that was supposed to be the frontline steward of our natural resources was instead a political victim instructed to have a chamber of commerce-like mentality toward business.
Larry Bonde of Kiel, the state chairman of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, said he and other leaders hope to move modest fee increases to the front burner this year to make up for a multi-million-dollar deficit in the DNR budget.
In addition to changes in enforcement and permitting, Bonde said many state properties aren’t being managed and fewer lake surveys are being done. Wisconsin also ranks near bottom in the number of conservation wardens per hunter and angler.
Supporters say fee hikes of $3 to $5 for certain licenses, stamps and applications could raise more than $4 million annually, enough to cover recent budget shortfalls.
Bonde planned to push for fee increases in his chairman’s update message at the Wisconsin Conservation Congress’ District Leadership Council meeting in Stevens Point Jan. 4.
A coalition of conservation and sporting groups will work with Gov.-elect Tony Evers, legislators, new DNR Secretary Preston Cole and whoever is elected to chair the state Natural Resources Board (currently Terry Hilgenberg; vice-chair Dr. Frederick Prehn also has a lot of support) to promote the increases.
Meanwhile, Bonde said the annual spring fish and wildlife rules hearing and CC meeting questions will be finalized at the two-day gathering.
The CC’s Deer and Elk Committee had recommended that in areas where baiting and feeding is allowed, food be spread over a minimum 10×10 area. However, since there’s no scientific literature that proves that would help minimize disease transmission, Bonde said it may be sent back to committee.
Hunt and fish
Unless you have permission to hunt private land on ag damage tags, gun deer hunts are over until fall.
New this year, Door County has an extended bow and crossbow deer season through Jan. 31.
Kewaunee County bow and crossbow hunts end Jan. 6, as do the statewide wild turkey, pheasant and Hungarian partridge hunts.
Gray and fox squirrels are legal through Jan. 31, raccoon and fox through Feb. 15 and cottontail rabbits through Feb. 28. Coyotes can be hunted year-round, though trapping them ends Feb. 15.
On the fishing scene, ice anglers are hoping a return of cold air is enough to at least firm up the bays, harbors and nearshore areas.
It’s been a wild season so far, with at least one southern Door and Kewaunee County guide using an airboat to power over open water to fish for perch, pike and whitefish through sheets of 3 to 7 inches of ice.
At Algoma, some anglers from Brussels launched during the Christmas break and landed a brown trout trolling the Lake Michigan shallows. A few browns were also hooked casting or ice fishing on the Ahnapee and Kewaunee rivers.
• The first Free Fishing Weekend of the year is set for Jan. 19-20. No licenses or stamps are needed those two days, but all other regulations apply.
Green Bay reported a record-setting amount of precipitation in 2018, nearly 39 inches through Dec. 27. That topped the previous high from 1985.
The years 2010, 1914 and 1906 rounded out the top five, all in the 38-inch range. The 100-year average is about 29½ inches.
Prior to Thursday’s rain, Lake Michigan was 19 inches above its 100-year average, and three inches higher than the same week last year.
Water levels were 48 inches above the all-time December low, set in 2012, but nearly 17 inches below the record high, set in 1986.
Attract more birds this winter by using discarded Christmas trees for extra cover near feeders.
It’s important to keep the feeders clean so wild birds stay healthy. Disinfect older ones with soapy water and a small amount of bleach, and clean up old seed hulls and waste by raking, shoveling or sweeping, and discard in the trash.
Learn more about birds at wsobirds.org or ebird.org/wi.