Turkey proposal sparks debate By Kevin Naze Contributing Writer Thursday, February 18, 2010 10:41 AM CST Madison - Mike Rogers says it no longer matters whether it was legislators or hunters who came up with a proposal to drastically change the spring turkey season; now that the bill is out in the open, he said it's time for public debate to dictate its success or failure. Rogers, of Prairie du Sac, is a dedicated turkey hunter and chairman of the Conservation Congress Turkey Committee. He said his local National Wild Turkey Federation chapter is among many NWTF chapters that are dead against SB 481, despite the fact that the NWTF Wisconsin state chapter helped legislators write the bill. SB 481 would allow hunters to buy a turkey tag over the counter and hunt anywhere at any time in the spring. It would eliminate the preference system, the six time periods, and the seven zones. "Any proposal should have been brought to the Conservation Congress. They should have laid out all of the facts," Rogers said. "Hunter interference in a wide-open, 42-day season would get ugly, especially on public land." The bill has bipartisan support from eight senators and 13 Assembly members. Sen. Jim Holperin, D-Conover, is the lead author. He chairs the Senate Natural Resources Committee, the committee to which the bill was assigned in late January. Liz Novak, an aide to Holperin, said the bill hasn't had a hearing scheduled and may not until late March or April. As of late last week, the bill's momentum appeared to fade. Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, told WON contributing editor Dan Small that mounting opposition made it unlikely that Holperin would call a hearing. When word of the plan leaked out, online message boards lit up with opinions. Some hunters said they'd welcome the changes; some shot the proposal down. Many said they were concerned about losing access to private land, competition for spots, and safety. Some wondered why the state NWTF chapter didn't poll its members. Dean Hamilton, NWTF state chapter president, said that board voted 7-3 to endorse the proposal, with one member abstaining. Hamilton said the proposal came about in a meeting last April with legislators and representatives from the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, Safari Club International's Wisconsin chapter, and the state NWTF chapter. Those groups are members of the Hunters Rights Coalition, which is represented by former senator and now lobbyist Bob Welch. "Deer issues were No. 1," Hamilton said. "Some bear issues were talked about, and then it turned to turkeys. A number of legislators said they had heard of a lot of unhappiness and wanted our support on writing a bill to have a wide-open season." Hamilton said he asked for time to go to the NWTF board and NWTF biologist Dave Neu. "We're hunters, but we also have a responsibility to the resource, and I didn't want to do anything to jeopardize the resource," Hamilton said. The NWTF board asked Neu to have DNR biologists weigh in. Neu went to the DNR in April; the agency didn't have any biological concerns about the proposal. But DNR Turkey Ecologist Scott Hull said since there was no official bill to react to - only an idea - he said the DNR didn't weigh in, but instead said it would be happy to consider changes and preferred that these types of questions go through the normal process. "We've added counter sales, extended the fall season, and are trying fall turkey hunting with dogs," Hull said. "That all points to us being willing to listen and change. But now that the bill is out there, there are a number of things we're concerned about. Hunter interference is one of those." Hunter satisfaction Hull said the DNR surveyed 10,000 spring and 10,000 fall turkey hunters last year, and 85 percent were satisfied or very satisfied with their hunting experience. Said Rogers, "Eighty-five percent of the hunters are satisfied, and they want to change it? I don't mind legislators having a say, but let it go through the normal channels first. You think they got elected to change the turkey season? They have better things to do, like work on the budget deficit, or job creation. That's what I'm hearing the most from people." Hamilton said since turkey hunting is managed for hunter satisfaction, he'd like to see even more opportunity, with everyone getting a tag and online or telephone bird registration. Also, under the proposed bill, nonresident college students would be able to buy a tag at a resident rate. "We knew this bill was going to get written regardless," Hamilton said. "The Legislature came to us. We felt it best to give input rather than just say no." Missouri has a similar number of hunters and harvest, Hamilton said, and allows two birds in a 21-day season. Hamilton said there were a number of errors in the bill's first draft, which NWTF found and helped change. "We want to continue to give the DNR power to continue to manage the fall season biologically," Hamilton said. Hamilton said he kept the DNR in the loop via e-mail. "I'm sick and tired of everyone saying we hate the DNR and hate the (Conservation) Congress," Hamilton said. "And I get really disappointed when I hear people say we don't work with the DNR. We donate thousands of dollars to Archery in Schools, hunter education and Learn-to-Hunt programs. Biologists sign off on every dollar we spend, and we have a great relationship with DNR wardens." Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association president Kendel Durham said his group voted to support the bill. Why would a bear group comment on turkeys? "It's called the Hunters' Rights Coalition," Durham said. "We band together and help support each other on worthwhile causes." Durham said he believes a wide-open format is one of the best ideas he's seen to improve the turkey hunt in Wisconsin. "Instead of five days, you have the ability to wait for good weather," Durham said. "I think you're going to be surprised how it's going to spread out the people. You're not limited to five days and done for the year." Rogers disagrees. "You wouldn't have the quality hunts you have now," he said. "Breaking it up by period spreads the pressure out. And now, I can get 10 tags if I want. If we can only get one tag, how is that more opportunity?" Hull said it's not clear how extra tags could be awarded. "We're not going to know in advance where people will be hunting," he said. "How would we decide how to issue those extra tags?" Hull said one landowner called to say he had better things to do than try to schedule hunters without separate time periods. Read the bill and track any future moves online at http://www.legis.state.wi.us/2009/data/SB481hst.html.