Debate over bear bill to expand hound hunting heats up By Dean Bortz Editor Thursday, February 18, 2010 10:41 AM CST Madison - It remains to be seen just what the Senate Natural Resources Committee will do with a black bear bill that would expand hound hunting, but testimony last Thursday made it clear that many hunters want the Senate to slow down and allow the public to weigh in during the spring hearings on April 12. Assembly Bill 371 already has passed the full Assembly and went to the Senate Natural Resources Committee for a hearing on Thursday, Feb. 11. Before any action could take place on the Senate floor, committee chairman Sen. Jim Holperin, D-Conover, would have to call for a committee vote on the bill; it would have to pass the committee to move to the Senate floor. The committee accepted testimony from about 15 people who appeared at the Capitol on Feb. 11, along with at least four mailed or e-mailed comments. An executive session that would have allowed the committee to vote on the bill was not scheduled for that day. Nor had a session been scheduled for a future date, as of late last week, according to Liz Novak, committee clerk. AB-371 is being sought by the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association (WBHA) and the Hunters Rights Coalition (HRC). The bill would allow hound hunters to train their dogs during the September and October kill season, regardless of whether the hunters had a Class A kill tag. If they do not have a kill tag, the bill would allow them to train during a "catch-and-release" season just as they do during the July and August training season. The bill would not allow hound training during the one week each year that bear bait hunters are afield on their own. AB-371 also would make it legal for someone other than the Class A tag holder to shoot a bear. The "backup shooter" must have a Class B tag. The bill would create a "free hunting" weekend at some point during the summer training season so that novice bear hunters could accompany houndsmen for two days without having to buy a Class B license. Another change would increase the age for needing a Class B license from 12 to 16. One element of the bill was removed during Assembly action on AB-371. WBHA wanted to do away with the Class B backtag requirement, but acquiesced to concerns from DNR conservation wardens. Heating up Holperin's committee has been hearing from sportsmen quite often lately, thanks to AB-371 and a proposal to take all restrictions off of the spring turkey season (see front page story in this issue). The heat continued during last week's hearing as sportsmen offered up their opinions. Some of the buildup to the day spilled over onto the hearing floor as Scott Meyer of the HRC brushed into Wisconsin Bowhunters Association (WBA) president Wright Allen. When Allen was called to testify, Meyer left his seat and walked down the aisle on his way out of the room as Allen walked up the aisle to the committee. Meyer brushed into Allen as he passed and appeared to mumble something to Allen. Allen commented on Meyer's action to committee members. A couple of weeks prior to the hearing, Meyer and HRC lobbyist Bob Welch attended a WBH board of directors meeting. Allen said Meyer and Welch came to the meeting after they learned that Allen had contacted Rep. Ann Hraychuck to lodge his opposition to AB-371. Allen said he is a bear guide and outfitter and opposes AB-371. He said he contacted Hraychuck as a citizen, not as WBH president. Allen said he is also a member of the WBHA. "They came in and criticized me for opposing the bill. Scotty said I should have contacted him before calling Ann, and I said I didn't know that I had to check in with him," Allen said. "Then they said that if WBH didn't support the bear hunters on this bill, the bear hunters and the HRC would ask the NRA to back them to bring in crossbow hunting for deer during the bow season. They said they can move mountains in Madison and that we should back off and let this go through." Allen said he received a phone call from Meyer after the WBH board meeting that was much less pleasant than the rhetoric offered during the meeting. Meyer and Welch did not return calls from Wisconsin Outdoor News before press time for this issue. Carl Schoettel, of Neohso, is the WBHA vice president, and he has spent a lot of time working on AB-371. Schoettel said he was not aware of Meyer and Welch's comments to the WBH. Schoettel pointed out that while Meyer does do public relations work for HRC, he said Meyer is no longer a member of the WBHA board of directors. Schoettel said he would contact Meyer and Welch to learn more about the WBH meeting. Spring hearings When Conservation Congress Executive Council secretary Rich Kirchmeyer, of Prentice, learned of AB-371, he added the bill's original five elements as advisory questions to the April 12 spring hearing agenda. Kirchmeyer is a bear guide in Price County and opposes the idea of allowing hound training during the kill season for hunters who don't have a kill tag. Kirchmeyer said the spring hearing process will give more sportsmen a chance to register their opinion than would Holperin's Senate hearing. At last week's hearing, Allen, the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, the Conservation Congress, and individuals asked the Senate committee to allow the bill to be reviewed during the spring hearings. Novak said Holperin did know that elements of the bill are on the spring hearing agenda. "The bill is not scheduled for a vote right now," she said. Good bill Schoettel said the expanded training opportunity is the most misunderstood part of the bill. "There is a lot of misinformation on this. We are not asking to be training during the week that bait hunters hunt on their own. We would be hunting when the Class A hound hunters go," he said. "We're going through the Legislature because we know how long it takes to go through the Congress and that's usually not an effective route. Our opponents so far are fellow hunters and sportsmen and I'm surprised at that. Any time we can increase opportunity for anyone to hunt more - I can't understand how anyone could oppose that. "There are not going to be any more hound hunters out there than there are now - we're not staying home now. You would see the same amount of pressure. We don't ask perfect strangers to go hunting right off the street, but we do find a (Class A) tag so that we can run," Schoettel said. "The angst about what is going to happen in the woods, I don't see that. Most people don't really understand what's going on out there," he said. "There's a lot of worrying about nothing, as far as what's going to happen in the woods. We just want everyone to get along and have opportunity." Correspondent Tim Eisele attended the Feb. 11 hearing and contributed to this report.