Act 168 -NRB Comments

Comments to the Natural Resources Board on Act 168
By the Friends of Wisconsin State Parks

The Friends of Wisconsin State Parks (Friends) thank the Natural Resources Board (NRB) for holding hearings to get public input on implementation of that part of Act 168 that expands hunting and trapping broadly into state parks and trails. These issues are critically important to the safety of millions of park and trail users as well as to Wisconsin’s recreational tourist industry, and we appreciate your willingness to listen to the public. We urge you to use extreme caution in making your decisions on the timing for hunting and trapping in parks and trails, as well as on the open and closed areas in parks and trails.

Earlier this year, FWSP urged the Legislature to drop Amendment 4 to the Sporting Heritage Bill, which ultimately became Act 168. Amendment 4 is the part of the bill that proposed to change the status of all Wisconsin state parks and trails from “closed to hunting and trapping unless specifically opened” to “open to all hunting and trapping year round less closed.”

Notably, Amendment 4 was introduced on October 20, 2011, after the public hearing was held on the bill on October 11, 2011; and the fiscal estimate for the costs of the legislation did not include costs associated with policing and protection associated with expansion of hunting and trapping in parks and trails. The Legislature essentially did not have the benefit of public input or fiscal estimates on the language in Amendment 4. It now falls to the NRB to get public input at the time of implementation when it perhaps would have been better if the Legislature had heard the many voices of Wisconsin’s citizens opposing this legislation.

Nevertheless, we know that Act 168 is currently the law. We also know that the NRB can construct its rules so as to protect the safety of Wisconsin’s citizens who use the parks and trails, and we urge you to do so.

FWSP’s mission is to preserve, protect and enhance Wisconsin’s parks, trails and natural areas. FWSP has worked with local Friends groups at individual properties; currently, FWSP represents more than 70 local Friends groups.

In the last year, Friends groups have donated more than $400,000 to the Wisconsin park system. Friends’ members and volunteers have donated over 125,000 volunteer hours to the Wisconsin park system in the last year; this is equivalent to 20 FTE or 220 summer LTEs – in one year. Friends groups also worked on 24 different Stewardship Grant projects in 2012, totaling $237,000 for our parks and trails.

We find it discouraging that after all of the time, energy and money provided by Friends groups to the state to operate parks and trails, the Friends were not consulted on the legislation or asked for comments on implementation. We tried to get the word out to local Friends groups to make their concerns known to you about their local parks and trails, and hopefully, you have heard from many of them directly.

FWSP does not oppose hunting. Many of FWSP’s members are hunters; some are trappers. But there are many users of our parks and trails who do not have a heritage of hunting and for whom “open to hunting” means “closed to them.” FWSP has received directly more than 125 comments on implementation of Act 168 and has submitted those to the NRB as well. Most comments express shock and disbelief that this law will go into effect.

Please consider the following as you deliberate and craft your rules:

  • According to the Statistical Report of State Park Operations for the period ending June 30, 2011, Wisconsin had 49 state parks consisting of 72,156 acres, 9 recreational areas consisting of 17,547 acres, and 42 trails with 2,000 miles of trails.
  • Last year, Wisconsin’s parks had 14,260,697 visitors (attendance).
  • This year, state park usage is up by 1,000,000 visitors over 2011, while deer hunting has decreased 6.5% and is expected to continue to decline.

  • By contrast, there are currently 6,200,000 acres of public hunting lands and about 1,000,000 hunters. It hardly seems necessary to add much of the small acreage of most parks and trails to this vast amount of public hunting land. Where there is significant use by non-hunters in parks and trails, safety concerns should easily outweigh unnecessary expansion into recreational areas.

  • The DNR has proposed a hunting season of October 15th through the Thursday before Memorial Day, which would impact recreational park and trail users in winter, spring and fall.
    • The vast time proposed to be open for hunting and trapping restricts the use of many park and trail areas for the 15,000,000 visitors for much of the year – for the sake of about 1,000,000 hunters.
    • In the southern part of the state, trees may still have significant leaf cover on October 15th, making hunting especially inappropriate when recreational users are in parks and trails to see fall colors.

  • For recreational users who continue to use parks and trails during the open hunting and trapping season, conflicts are likely to occur. The longer the season, the more conflicts that will occur.

  • There is no increase in the DNR’s budget to account for increased expenses for enforcement of hunting and trapping in parks and trails. That, in itself, is a safety concern that should caution the NRB against a broad opening of parks and trails to hunting and trapping.

  • The loss of park and trail users will cost the state not only in lost revenue for unpurchased park stickers and trail passes, but also in loss of volunteer hours to maintain these properties and donations to state properties.
    • Some Friends groups have advised us that they will dissolve if their parks or trails are totally open to hunting or trapping because their members will no longer use the parks and trails.

  • The reduction in park and trail visitors will negatively affect Wisconsin’s recreational tourist industry that is supported by recreational park and trail users.

In summary, please:
    • LISTEN to the public.
    • LIMIT the areas open to hunting and trapping as much as possible to protect the safety of recreational users of the parks and trails, as well as hunters and trappers.
    • RESTRICT the time periods for open hunting and trapping to minimize the conflicts and disruption to the millions of recreational visitors to parks and trails.
    • PROTECT the safety of Wisconsin’s park and trail users – as well as areas surrounding parks and trails.
    • By doing these things, PRESERVE Wisconsin’s parks and trails for recreational users; and
    • ENHANCE Wisconsin’s recreational tourist economy.

Thank you.

Friends of Wisconsin State Parks
P.O. Box 2271
Madison, WI 53701