Why should anyone attend the DNR spring hearings? All the rules are made in some clandestine cave somewhere, or over $15 cocktails in some fancy members-only facility in Madison, right? It seems like most people feel this way.
I attend the spring hearings every year and have for many years. But I am always saddened to see how few people actually attend the meetings. Sure, there are people who come in, fill out the questionnaire, and then leave rather than stay for the meeting. That is great. At least they are making their opinion known and having their vote counted - on many, many different fish and wildlife management topics.
As I sit in that meeting, I cannot help but wonder how many people are sitting at home, or in a tavern somewhere, complaining about a fishing or hunting rule to which they believe they have been unfairly subjected. I am sure there are plenty of people out there doing just that - at the same exact time they could be voting on important issues and making their thoughts known. There is also an opportunity for any resident of any county to pose a question to others in their county regarding a fish or wildlife management issue they feel is important. Any resident can write a citizen resolution and propose that resolution to those in their county to get the process of change started. Information on how to do that can be found on the DNR website. You can find all of the information about the spring hearings by typing "spring hearings" in the search box. Yet few people get involved in that process, either.
The same thing can be said for the County Deer Advisory Committee (CDAC) meetings. Deer hunting, and all that goes with it, has been a controversial us-versus-them (hunter versus DNR) issue since before the DNR was even known as the DNR. Yet, now that we have tools for the hunters' voices to be heard, hunters still do not attend these meetings. Granted, not everyone will get what they want, but all voices will be heard. When it comes to things such as the baiting and feeding ban, which is governed by state statute, the CDAC or even the DNR can do little to change that, but at the very least they can let an individual know what avenues to take to let their voice be heard, whether that is contacting a legislator or another person of influence.
But, sadly, just as with the spring hearing meetings, few people show up for the CDAC hearings. Few people vote on each question, and few voices are heard. I believe, the day will come when it is no longer the hunter or angler who comes to these meetings. Activist groups could show up in large numbers, outweighing our opinions. I would rather not think about what the future of fish and wildlife management would look like if that were to happen. I do not mean to be doom and gloom - as they are probably about as apt to get off of their couches and come to the meetings as others - but if that idea makes one more person come to the spring hearings, then I feel as though I have done my job.
Over the next few weeks, the questions on this year's spring hearings questionnaire will be presented in our Outdoors section. I hope at least one question prompts enough interest to get someone to the meetings.
There is a meeting in every county at 7 p.m. April 9.
The Oneida County meeting will be held at James Williams Middle School in Rhinelander. The Vilas County meeting is at the St. Germain Community Center. The Iron County meeting is at the Mercer Community Center. At these meetings, Wisconsin Conservation Congress (WCC) delegates will also be elected. Stakeholders are able to attend the spring hearings meeting in any county, but are only allowed to vote for WCC delegates in their county of residence.
Wisconsin Conservation Congress delegates advise the Natural Resources Board as well as the DNR on how to responsibly manage the state's natural resources. This is the only citizen-elected body to do so. Attendees can nominate another for an open WCC seat as they come open. Delegates are elected at the spring hearings, and most run unopposed.
While we are lucky in our area to have dedicated individuals who make every effort to keep local stakeholder interests in mind, no group such as this could not benefit from a fresh insight.
Fresh blood, as it were, is good for any organization. But, sadly, if we cannot get enough interest in even coming to the meetings, it would seem unlikely we would attract new people who are interested enough to volunteer to become delegates.
One bright spot in all of this seems to be the Youth Conservation Congress. It helps to see the youth who are willing to get involved, who care enough about our natural resources to volunteer their time to the cause. That gives me hope for the future, and it should give us all hope. It would be nice to leave this rock knowing that at least one small part is in good hands, would it not?
I know scheduling is difficult. I know we are all busy. But, if you can, make the time to get to the spring hearings.
Go to the DNR website and look at the questionnaire. Check out what we are voting on and bring your opinion, and your voice, to the hearings. And do not forget to watch for the CDAC meetings coming in March, too. There will be one in every county. The dates and times can be found on the DNR website by searching "CDAC."
Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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