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February 18, 2020

dean hall/lakeland times

Night hunting of raccoons was one of the topics discussed during last month’s meeting of the Natural Resources Board.
dean hall/lakeland times

Night hunting of raccoons was one of the topics discussed during last month’s meeting of the Natural Resources Board.
1/18/2020 7:30:00 AM
NRB hears bear, raccoon rule changes

Last month's Natural Resources Board (NRB) meeting brought approval of some rule change packages that have been in the works for several months.

Wildlife regulation policy specialist Scott Karel presented to the board the changes made to the 2019-2029 bear management plan, which were previously approved by the board, but needed to continue on through the rule- making process with changes in the administrative code.

One of the changes made had to do with the boundaries of the zones. Zone C was split into three zones to better follow habitat, Karel said, and Zones A and D were adjusted to better address damage concerns. Another change had to do with hunting season quotas. Rather than a hard and fast number as a quota, Karel explained, the new plan focuses on more flexible population numbers that were based on cultural carrying capacity.

Larry Bonde of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress was present to express the Congress' support of the new management plan. The plan, he said, also removes the three-day wait for licenses sold during the season.

Former board chair Terry Hildenberg asked Karel to explain why, in Minnesota, bear licenses can be bought over the counter while in Wisconsin people are complaining they have a five to 10-year wait for a tag.

"Quite simply, it's a matter of supply and demand," Karel explained. Minnesota, he said, has approximately 21,000 applicants each year, whereas Wisconsin has approximately 121,000 hunters looking to receive a bear tag each year. Minnesota has a quota area and a non-quota area, where bears are basically not wanted on the landscape. Those over the counter sales, he said, occur in the non-quota areas in Minnesota.

Hildenberg also mentioned the plan, as approved, largely failed to address bear conflict with other wildlife. This, he and others believe, is an issue which should be addressed.

"In the northern portion, even though the department thinks it's not true, most of us hunters up there feel that the bear are taking care of the deer - fawns in particular - and there's no mention about that in the rule," he said.

There was also some discussion regarding the board approving the quota each year.

Hildenberg asked for the board to approve each quota, as they do with other hunting frameworks.

Board member Greg Kazmierski said the board approves some, and not others. He, too, would like to see the board approval for each species, he said.

"The reason why I like these to come before the board is that is does give the public a kick at the can," he said. "That's the importance to me."

Public comment is always welcomed, including public appearances, at the Natural Resources Board meetings. Input is also gathered from organizations such as the Wisconsin Conservation Congress in setting of quotas.

Board member Bill Bruins asked for more clarification on the more flexible approach to establishing harvest goals. Karel said many things would be taken into account with the new system.

"What we are moving towards now is looking at population models," Karel said. "Let's say, is there heavier damage over a period of time? Do we need to adjust for that?"

He said health issues in bear populations, among other things, could also be taken into account with the revised quota system, with goals lightened in that case. He also said the department would continue to use several different avenues for public input on quota goals. Those would include not only the Natural Resources Board, but also the bear advisory committee and the Wisconsin Conservation Congress.

Night hunting raccoons

In the 1960s, a rule was put into place to eliminate night hunting of raccoons during the nine-day gun deer hunting season. Right now, Karel told the Natural Resources Board, in the southern third of the state, that regulation has been dropped, coinciding with the discovery of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in the deer herd there. He also pointed to the fact that deer hunting opportunities overall have increased, meaning any potential impact on deer hunters would likely be small, if any at all.

The number of hunters expected to take part in the opportunity to hunt raccoons at night would likely be small, he said.

He also told the board research has shown free-ranging dogs used to hunt raccoons at night do not negatively impact the movement patterns of white-tailed deer, leading the department to believe allowing this hunting opportunity would not create issues between the two user groups.

There was public comment made on the issue, with one individual, Corky Meyer, telling the board his group of hunters simply wanted the opportunity to run their dogs during what he called their "prime season." Larry Bonde also put the Wisconsin Conservation Congress' support behind eliminating this prohibition, stating the congress had "absolutely no problem" with the rule. He also stated the rule, which originally came to the congress from a citizen in 2017, was great proof that one citizen or group of citizens with a real concern about an issue could advance that concern through the steps to make a needed rule change.

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