Starting January 1, 2013, hunting, fishing and trapping will be allowed in all Wisconsin state parks, thanks to Wisconsin Act 168.
While some hunting was allowed in every Door County park in 2012, soon hunters, anglers and trappers will be allowed in Wisconsin state parks for every season, creating challenges for park employees who will have to deal with the potential influx of hunters throughout more of the year.
Door County state park employees could not comment on how the new law will be implemented at individual parks, but at the state level a committee of DNR officials is discussing the implications of the law and how to handle it.
The legislation prohibits the activities within 100 yards of designated use areas – like campsites, trails and picnic spaces – and deciding what qualifies as a designated use area is the main point of discussion for the committee. Some things, like campgrounds and picnic areas, are easily identified as designated use areas, but some trails may not qualify.
The committee has met once to discuss the law and is deciding how to warn visitors about hunting areas and designated use areas. They are considering posting signs throughout the park, highlighting areas on park maps and posting information at the park entrance.
“I think it’s really important that if you have split hunting areas in a park that they have to be easily definable with road, trail, mowed area or something and adequate signage,” said committee member Peter Biermeier, section chief of recreation planning and development for the DNR. “Those are the kinds of discussions we really had a lot of when we first met.”
At the meeting, representatives talked about the unique needs of many parks. Biermeier said some parks may be totally closed to hunting, but couldn’t say which.
Under the legislation, the Natural Resources Board can also prohibit hunting, fishing and trapping in certain areas to protect unique plant and animal communities where foot traffic would harm a unique or rare species.
“There are very few circumstances that would present themselves that we would not have state property open based on that criteria,” said Kurt Thiede, division administrator for Wisconsin land programs.
Even with the committee deciding how to best handle more hunting, fishing and trapping, 2013 could be a challenging year for state parks.
Visitation in Peninsula State Park is up 30 percent this year, and the park has three fewer full-time staff than it did in 2011. The state park system has approved replacing two of those employees.
Kelli Bruns, superintendent of Peninsula State Park, doesn’t anticipate any increase in budget or staff if visitation continues to increase due to an influx of hunters, anglers and trappers.
But it’s too early to tell what kind of impact Wisconsin Act 168 will have on state park visitation, staff or budget.
“I think the first year that we go through this will show us what kind of an impact it might have on staffing levels and maintenance costs or needs, but until we get through that first year we’ll be making a best guess at it,” said DNR Regional Director Jean Romback-Bartels.
Rep. Garey Bies (R-Sister Bay) co-signed the bill and said he has received little opposition to the bill, and he doesn’t think staffing or safety will be an issue. He said the bill had strong bipartisan support in both houses.
Wisconsin Act 168 passed 84-12 in the Assembly and 32-1 in the Senate.
“It’s a good use of our resources, a good use of the parks,” Bies said. “I think the regular use and the outdoor hunting can live side by side without any real issues.”
The changes to state park hunting, fishing and trapping regulations are only part of the larger Hunting Heritage bill. The bill is meant to encourage more people to hunt, fish and trap for recreation and open up more land as public hunting space.
“Private landowners are restricting hunting on their property,” Bies said.
The bill also created the Sporting Heritage Council composed of various legislators and created an incentive program for hunters, anglers and trappers to encourage friends to buy licenses too.
“One of the trends that we have seen where the older generation is starting to get out of hunting and fishing and trapping and the younger generation is not being added into the mix like we’ve seen in the past,” Romback-Bartels said.
Hunting in Door County State Parks
Trapping is not allowed in any parks in 2012, but some hunting and fishing are currently allowed in portions of all Door County state parks. Hunting allowed in Door County state parks includes:
- Newport State Park is open for bow, gun and muzzleloader deer hunting, as well as spring turkey hunting.
- Peninsula State Park is open for muzzleloader deer hunting.
- Potawatomi State Park is open for gun deer hunting.
- Rock Island State Park is open for bow, gun and muzzleloader deer hunting.
- Whitefish Dunes State Park is open for gun deer hunting.
Please visit dnr.wi.gov or contact individual state parks for specific dates and regulations.