Preserving Wisconsin’s Hunting Heritage
By State Senator Julie Lassa
The start of the traditional gun deer hunting season in Wisconsin reminds us all about the importance of hunting to Wisconsin’s culture and economy. The last National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife reported that Wisconsin had 763,384 resident hunters, the second highest total of any state, including much more populous states like New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. All hunting-related expenditures in Wisconsin totaled $2.5 billion.
But hunting is about more than money. It’s generations of friends and family members swapping memories and tall tales at deer camp. It’s parents sharing with children their knowledge of animals and their habitats, instilling a love of nature that can last a lifetime. And it’s about being alone in the woods and feeling one’s intimate connection with the world that sustains us. In short, it’s about who we are as Wisconsinites.
Given the importance of hunting to our state, I have introduced a number of provisions to help strengthen Wisconsin’s hunting culture and encourage more people to enjoy it. For example, one issue that threatens the vitality of our hunting tradition is the fact that fewer people are choosing to hunt. One bright spot in that story is that more women are giving hunting a try – in fact, there are more new women hunters than new men in the field. To encourage that trend, I’ve cosponsored a bill that would permit the wearing of blaze pink clothes while deer hunting. Research conducted at UW-Madison has shown that blaze pink is just as visible to other hunters as the blaze orange that’s currently required, so this would be a way to make more clothing options available without compromising safety. As a bonus, pink is also less visible to deer than orange is!
Another group that deserves better access to the hunting experience is our disabled military veterans. That’s why I worked with the Portage County Conservation Congress, its chairman Matt Jacowski, and Representative Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) to introduce a bill that would create a mentored wild turkey hunting program for disabled vets that would enable them to have the assistance of experienced turkey hunters. A hunting mentor would not only help disabled veterans learn to hunt an exciting game species that has only recently been reintroduced to Wisconsin, but would help them adapt the hunting experience for their specific needs.
Whatever their gender or ability, all hunters need land to hunt on. That has been one of the most popular aspects of the Stewardship Program, in which the state acquires land for conservation purposes while enabling public access for hunting, fishing and other outdoor sports. Unfortunately, the Stewardship Program has received heavy budget cuts in recent years, including a requirement that the DNR sell off 10,000 acres of land currently preserved by the program. The DNR is currently selecting property to sell, and I have heard from many constituents that some of their most cherished hunting lands and fisheries potentially will be on the selling block. Although the DNR has said that it will attempt to sell the land to local governments, they too have had their budgets squeezed. Even if they can afford to buy the land, there is no guarantee it will continue to be available for hunting or other public purposes.
To preserve this land, I have introduced a bill along with Senator Mark Miller (D-Monona) that would remove the shortsighted mandate included in the 2013 state budget that required the sell-off in the first place. When our forests and fields have been developed, they will never again be available for hunting, or any other activity that allows us to enjoy an unspoiled natural landscape. Hunting and the beautiful outdoors are what make Wisconsin the unique home we love. We ought to do whatever we can to preserve and promote it.