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Wild Things: Record-Low Turnout at Spring Hearings

Fewer than 1,500 citizens attended the first in-person Department of Natural Resources (DNR) spring fish and wildlife hearings and Wisconsin Conservation Congress (WCC) meetings in five years, an all-time low.

More than 90 percent of the 18,802 votes cast last month were done online, and 1,516 came from nonresidents. Nearly 1,100 of those were from neighboring states (Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan and Iowa), but a total of 45 states and six votes from outside the U.S. were represented.

DNR WCC Liaison Kari Lee-Zimmerman said the in-person numbers for each county might not be an accurate representation of the attendance because of the variability in how hardcopies were distributed.

But based on conversations with those who attended locally (Door, Kewaunee, Brown and Manitowoc counties), the numbers she provided for each county look to be in line with what she saw.

One big exception appears to be Douglas County, which showed only one person because Lee-Zimmerman said hardcopies weren’t distributed. More than 200 people \ were in attendance there (many likely due to the controversy over deer and wolf management in that neck of the woods).

Regardless, it’s obvious that after four years of no in-person meetings (since COVID-19 in 2020), attendance suffered greatly. In fact, about half of Wisconsin’s 72 meetings had a dozen or fewer citizens walk through the door.

One of the knocks against online input is that those voting don’t get to learn more about the issues via the “raise your hand and comment” format that takes place at the in-person meetings.

For decades, questions were debated until a call for a vote came up. Hands were raised for yes, or no, and counted by a DNR representative present.

Eventually, paper ballots were added, and attendees could come and go as they pleased. They were handed a printed pamphlet explaining the issues, and a ballot to fill in. Some stayed for the meeting to hear the debate, and some simply filled in a yes or no on whatever hot-button topics they were interested in and left the ballot to be counted later.

Since 2019, online input was added, giving more people an opportunity to vote at their leisure over a period of three days instead of sitting through what was often a two- to three-hour meeting.

The Conservation Congress was created in 1934. Five citizens from each county are elected to serve terms to represent their county at an annual meeting, and many also serve on various committees that take up citizen resolutions and decide to advance them or not.

For many years, votes at the annual hearings meant a lot more, often leading to regulation changes. Today, the votes are considered advisory-only, and it’s often legislators who decide if something advances to a rule or not.

Still, the Conservation Congress is the only statutory body in Wisconsin where citizens elect delegates to advise the seven-member state Natural Resources Board and the DNR on how to responsibly manage natural resources for present and future generations.

Learn more about the Conservation Congress at dnr.wisconsin.gov/about/wcc, and see this year’s results at dnr.wisconsin.gov/about/wcc/springhearing.

Global Big Day

Spring bird migration is nearing its peak, with colorful backyard birds like Baltimore orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks and indigo buntings being seen at many well-stocked backyard feeding sites across the region.

There are also dozens of species that you won’t find at feeders, but instead will need to look to forests to see and hear. Door County’s state parks and Nature Conservancy and

Land Trust properties are great spots to bring your binoculars and camera to spot colorful warblers and other insect-eaters.

This Saturday, May 11, is Global Big Day, and birders worldwide can report what they see and hear. Last year, birders set new records reporting a total of 7,746 different species and counting more than three million birds.

You can learn how to participate at tinyurl.com/wfapmnrd, or follow the progress of birders from about 200 countries in real-time at

ebird.org/globalbigday.

SB Bass Tournament

Sturgeon Bay’s Adam Neu caught the heaviest smallmouth in the 31-team Sturgeon Bay Bass Tournament last weekend, a 7.12-pound giant. That would prove to be the difference-maker in a tight finish.

Neu and Jimmy Doering weighed 29 pounds the first day and 30.02 the second on the allowed five fish daily in the catch, weigh and immediately release format for a total of 59.02 pounds, edging out Adam Cherry and Brett Alexander and earning the top prize of

$10,000.

The top nine teams all averaged more than 5 pounds per bass. Nate Nipper and Mike Davis placed third, Jeremy Roetz and Nick Macht were fourth and John Allen and Scott Ourada fifth.

Next up is the Sturgeon Bay Open Spring Event May 17-18. You can learn more on the North American Bass Challenge site at tinyurl.com/43p8y9ee.

Water Level Rising

Lake Michigan and Green Bay water levels rose 6 inches between early April and early May, and likely climbed higher after heavy rains across the basin this week. As of last weekend, water levels still were down 4 inches from one year ago, part of a 32-inch drop since the record monthly high set in 2020. Still, lake levels were 2 inches

above the 100-year average, and 32 inches above the all-time monthly low, set in 1964.