NRB OKs use of ‘overnight’ treestands

Madison — The Natural Resources Board (NRB) opened up state land north of Hwy. 64 to overnight treestands and portable ground blinds, made it harder for game wardens to enforce late hunting by changing “hunting hours” to “shooting hours,” and also asked the governor and legislature to once again allow sportsmen to cross railroad tracks on foot.

Overnight stands/blinds

The NRB approved a request from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to allow hunters to leave treestands and ground blinds overnight on DNR land north of Hwy. 64 from Sept. 1 through Jan. 31.

What started out as a trial run with a sunset clause after three years ended up as a permanent change after the board approved the plan with an amendment from Greg Kazmierski that eliminated the sunset provision.

The proposal had been presented last spring in the form of three questions at the 2016 hearings. Two questions were handily rejected by sportsmen. In those questions, voters were asked if treestands and blinds should be allowed outright (no sunset clause) on state land north of Hwy. 64 for all fall seasons (failed 2,192 to 1,639) or for all firearms seasons (failed 2,780 to 1,018).

In approving the third question, sportsmen indicated that they would be willing to consider the change on a trial basis. That question asked sportsmen if they would support the placement of overnight stands and blinds on state land north of Hwy. 64 for a three-year trial period.

That passed 2,253 to 1,600.

The amendment offered by Kazmierski, and approved by the board, ignored hunters’ wishes, as gauged by that 2016 vote.

Conservation Congress chairman Larry Bonde argued against the change prior to Kazmierski’s amendment. Bonde asked NRB members to allow the Congress to bring the question back to sportsmen one more time.

Bonde noted that although the original proposal, which had been for a three-year trial period, received support (2,253 people in favor and 1,600 against), Bonde told the NRB the Congress opposes the proposed change for now. Bonde said the Congress normally does not go against the public vote, but in this case he said question was misleading.

He said that by handily rejecting the first two questions and then supporting the third, sportsmen believed they were voting for the lesser of three evils.

He said sportsmen didn’t realize that they could turn down the entire idea. Bonde suggested the question go back out to the public at this year’s spring hearings.

Lane Webster, of Waunakee, said he favored the proposal to allow stands and blinds to be out overnight. He said this would make it easier for hunters to hunt and is also more safe, since they don’t have put up stands in the dark each morning.

Dan Trawicki, of Waukesha, supported the change, saying that other states have had no problems with leaving stands overnight.

George Meyer, of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, supported allowing stands and blinds out overnight on DNR land up north. Meyer noted that when the stands and blinds are not occupied by those who put them up, other hunters could use them.

Chippewa tribal members, who may now hunt deer at night, would also be allowed to use those stands by incorporating them into their nighttime shooting plans.

After public comments, Kazmierski amended the idea by eliminating the three-year trial period. He said it takes too long to change rules. If there are problems the board can always come back to review it, he said. And because some hunters were concerned others would put out lots of stands to “stake out” their own areas, Kazmierski added the stipulation that nobody could place more than two portable stands or blinds on DNR land in the same county.

Kazmierski noted that this new regulation does not apply to people putting up stands on county or federal lands, where there may not be limits on how many stands can be placed.

Gary Zimmer, board member from Rhinelander, agreed there are safety concerns to installing or removing stands in the dark.

Fred Prehn, board member from Wausau, said he did not see a problem eliminating the original three-year sunset clause.

Hunting/shooting hours

A second rule change, originally thought to be minor in nature, changed the wording in hunting regulations from legal “hunting hours” to legal “shooting hours.”

The NRB approved the change, but if Bonde is correct, the change may come back to haunt not just game wardens, but ethical and legal sportsmen.

The change was described as a “housekeeping” matter that would give hunters time to stay in their stand so as to not spook deer in their area, even if hunting hours had ended.

Supporters of the change say it helps avoid any potential misunderstanding where someone walking into a stand or pointing a firearm, but not shooting, before or after hunting hours. They would not be guilty of violating the law of hunting during closed hunting hours under the new regulation.

Bonde said that conservation wardens already have discretion in those circumstances and he did not know of any wardens who were in favor of this change.

Bonde said the change would actually allow hunters to stay in their stands as long as they wish – even rattle, grunt, or have decoys out – and not be in an illegal situation until they actually released an arrow or fired a bullet. A warden would have to be sitting on the hunter and see a deer tip over in order to write a ticket.

For those reasons, the Conservation Congress opposed this change, said Bonde.

Trawicki supported the change from hunting to shooting hours, saying it was in the best interest of the sportsmen.

When asked by NRB members, Todd Schaller, the DNR’s chief warden, admitted that there could be some challenges with enforcement following a change to “shooting hours,” but he said wardens would work with what the board decides.

Kazmierski believes most sportsmen feel the beginning and ending hours are really “shooting hours.”

“We are looking for clarity in our rules that sportsmen and wardens can comply with,” he said.

The NRB approved the change from “hunting hours” to “shooting hours.” That change – and the treestand/ground blind change – must be reviewed by the legislature before going to the governor.

Railroad tracks

The NRB passed a resolution at its Jan. 25 meeting supporting a change in the state’s railroad crossing law to allow hunters, trappers, anglers, and other outdoors enthusiasts to cross railroad tracks on foot during recreational pursuits.

The resolution acknowledges that prior to legislation passed in 2005, the public had been able to legally walk directly across railroad tracks outside of designated road crossings.

When Act 179 was passed as part of the budget bill, it restricted access to thousands of acres of public lands and water.

Representatives of the La Crosse County Conservation Alliance and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation attending NRB meetings asked for the board’s help in getting the law changed.

The NRB unanimously passed a resolution that “encourages the … legislature and governor … to find a solution (for) access to public lands across railroad tracks.”

The resolution has been delivered to the governor and both houses of the legislature.

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