For me this is the most wonderful time of the year.
This is the build-up to the Wisconsin gun deer season, which runs from the Saturday before Thanksgiving to the end of the Thanksgiving weekend.
And, in fact, bow hunting is already in progress. Most late afternoons when I’m at our place in the North Woods, I walk out to my tree stand and sit, 20 feet off the ground, for a couple of hours before sunset. I love just sitting there in the chilly afternoon and listening for a rustle in the leaves. When I’m lucky I get to watch deer. Sometimes I read a book. My bow hangs on a hook next to my left ear. I never reach for it.
And when the gun season does finally arrive it’ll be special. That’s because last year the season hit during the height of the COVID pandemic. So, I stayed at my place Up North and hunted alone. For the first time in almost 30 years I wasn’t at my deer camp in Richland County. I missed the guys and it underscored for me how shooting a deer is the least important thing about deer hunting.
But, while my return to the Jordahl Farm will be a cause for celebration, I’ll be sitting in the woods and thinking about what a mess our state’s conservation heritage is in.
First, there’s the wolf hunt travesty. In February, a Kansas-based group, which has the insufferable Ted Nugent on its advisory board, forced the Department of Natural Resources into an ill-advised hunt. The result was a slaughter as hunters blew past their quota by 80 percent before the department could call off the hunt. To make matters worse, it took place during the wolves’ breeding season, so the impact on the population was probably multiplied.
Don’t blame DNR professionals for that. The hunt was mandated by Republicans in the Legislature, forced though in court by Nugent’s radical group Hunter Nation, and finally approved by a Natural Resources Board still controlled by former Gov. Scott Walker’s appointees.
Which brings us to the next outrage. Board chair Fred Prehn’s term expired in May, but he refuses to surrender his seat to Gov. Tony Evers’ nominee. That means that Walker appointees continue to control the board almost three years after Evers took office. That may not be illegal, but it’s clearly undemocratic and just plain wrong.
Because Prehn stubbornly refuses to do the right thing, he was able to force the department into yet another ill-advised wolf hunt this fall. Conservation and environmental groups as well as a coalition of tribes are trying to head this off in court and last week a Dane County judge issued a preliminary injunction on the scheduled Nov. 6 wolf hunt.
To top it all off Republicans have introduced a bunch of bills written by Hunter Nation, none of which were vetted with responsible Wisconsin groups like the Conservation Congress, Trout Unlimited or the International Crane Foundation. Nugent was the featured speaker at a press conference where the bills were announced. These bills would, among other things, establish a hunting season for sandhill cranes, require the DNR to stock 100,000 trout in Great Lakes waters, and, inexplicably, allow concealed carry without a permit. (I guess if you’re walking down the street and see a crane fly over, you need to be able to pull out your Glock and blast away.)
I’m grateful that Evers is there to veto all this junk if it gets to his desk, but it’s sad and embarrassing nonetheless. Wisconsin has had a long tradition of responsible hunting and forward-thinking conservation. Internationally revered thinkers, like Aldo Leopold, have been architects of that. But now our conservation agenda is being set by Ted Nugent.
I’m happy it’s fall again. I’ll be excited to return to the camaraderie of my old deer camp. But what’s going on over my head, at the highest levels of resource management in our state, will trouble my long days in the woods.
A version of this piece originally appeared in Isthmus.
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