|By Kurt Krueger
Changes to fishing regulations, such as largemouth and smallmouth bass rules, will take twice as long under Act. 21. --Photo By The Author
POLITICAL maneuvering intended to slow conservation efforts of the Natural Resources Board because it might interfere with economic growth is already causing fallout that will adversely affect the state’s outdoor community.
One measure passed by Republicans who now control Wisconsin government is Act 21, which gives the governor unprecedented power over administrative rules.
By requiring an economic review and scoping before rules can be implemented, it is expected to double the time it takes to change an administrative rule — even simple rules that affect hunting,
fishing and trapping.
Traditional rule changes have always been brought to the Natural Resources Board following a lengthy process involving the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Wisconsin Conservation Congress and thousands of sportsmen and -women. The process includes spring fish and game hearings in every county.
What was already a slow and cumbersome process, by design, just got a lot slower. In fact, officials are now talking about only having spring fish and game hearings every other year.
That means it could take three to four years to make a simple change involving the spring turkey season, the muskie size limit or local regulations on walleye, bass and other species.
It’s doubtful that hunters, anglers and trappers were the target of Act 21. What Republicans wanted to take away from the Natural Resources Board was some of its authority to change more significant rules, such as the state’s minimum shoreland zoning regulations.
It was just two years ago that the board approved revisions to Chapter NR 115 of the Administrative Code, strengthening the state’s minimum shoreline protections while also adding flexibility to the regulatory system for lakefront property owners and the counties that are charged with implementing the code.
Many Republican lawmakers didn’t like the changes, but the rule survived legislative review at a time when Democrats were in charge. Now that the political climate has changed, there is talk of gutting the rule as well as changing the entire rule-making process to prevent such events in the future.
The scribbler and this newspaper supported the revision because most of what the DNR came up with reflects what Vilas County has been doing with shoreland zoning since 1999. I figure if it works in a county with the highest concentration of inland lakes in the state, it should work everywhere.
The rule now deals more with controlling runoff by regulating impervious surfaces and offers flexibility for building projects through mitigation. The project started as an objective mission with input from all stakeholders, but it ended with two years of silence and closed-door negotiations.
In the end, the impervious surface limits were just too strict. But, instead of opting for a quick fix, the party in charge is tossing the baby out with the bath water.
Unfortunately, Republicans went for a buckshot approach instead of the rifle bullet, and the entire rule-making process is going to bleed out because of it. The losers will be hunters, anglers and trappers who can’t get needed regulation changes in a timely fashion.
“Act 21 has already started to cause severe problems in adopting simple hunting, fishing and trapping regulations,” said Chuck Matyska, president of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation. “Virtually all of the many regulations governing hunting, fishing and trapping in Wisconsin must be adopted by administrative rule and are supported by sportsmen and -women.”
The federation has called on the governor and the Legislature to modify Act 21 to allow the adoption of noncontroversial and inexpensive hunting, fishing and trapping regulations without the added red tape and delay caused by the new law.
Unfortunately, Republicans aren’t stopping there. They’ve also introduced legislation that would undermine pier regulations, allow unrestricted shoreline bulldozing and give property owners the right to dredge the lakebed without a permit.
Rep. Dan Meyer (R-Eagle River) has frequently defended his conservation stance, so we’ll see where he stands on legislation that would gut decades of work aimed at protecting lakefronts, wildlife habitat and water quality.
I might be wrong, but it looks like Wisconsin’s great conservation ethic is taking some big hits at the hands of Republican legislators. The question is, How far will the pendulum swing before we say enough is enough?
For sure, there is no reason for simple hunting, fishing and trapping regulations to be delayed one day longer than the deliberately slow process that has been in place for years.