Attention Wisconsin Deer Hunters

The Deer Czar is not the problem

The Deer Czar is getting a lot of bad press and he is not happy about it. But he is not the real threat to public land in Wisconsin. The guy who hired him and is paying him $125,000 dollars in Wisconsin tax money is the real threat. The hoopla over the Deer Czar is just a cynical political dog and pony show designed to help Scott Walker survive the recall.

It is not as though Walker cares about Wisconsin's forests and rivers. He has demonstrated that conclusively already. Here is a reference point for Walker's tender concern for the habitat that sustains the Wisconsin deer herd. A Walker contributor, Gogebic Taconite (GTac), a Florida mining company, proposed an open pit mine from four miles to 22 miles long, and hundreds of feet deep. The mine would have occupied the area that feeds the headwaters of the Bad River, and displaced or contaminated miles of trout streams and wetlands. Under the bill that Walker's henchmen in the legislature prepared with the help of lawyers from the mining company, the mine could draw down and contaminate local groundwater, take high volumes of water from rivers, lakes and streams that were not located within its property, and fill in wetlands with toxic mining waste.

On March 6, the Wisconsin Senate voted the proposal down by one vote, although it may be back if Scott Fitzgerald survives his recall. (Lori Compas is trying to remove him from his seat, bless her heart.) But one lesson of the GTac mine story is that wild habitat is not even a consideration for the Walker regime.

Here is another reference point for what hunters and fisherman should expect from more years with Walker in charge: he appointed former legislator Scott Gunderson as DNR Executive Assistant.

[Gunderson] once pushed for legislation that would have privatized thousands of miles of Wisconsin's waterways, including portions of every trout stream in the state. The 2004 legislation, authored by Gunderson while he was representing the 83rd District (Waukesha) in the State Assembly, redefined "navigable waters" in a way that would have denied public access to between one third and one half of Wisconsin's public waterways.

In his current position he is in a much better position to advocate for privatizing trout streams.

Gunderson has recently distinguished himself by intervening in a case involving dumping of human waste, along with his boss, DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp:
As DNR executive assistant, Gunderson became a central figure in the recently publicized "Sewergate" scandal when he worked behind the scenes to help Herr Environmental, Inc. evade serious penalties from charges of illegally dumping human urine and feces on fields near residential areas in Jefferson County in 2009. The human waste threatens to contaminate groundwater and the wells of dozens of families. Herr, whose owners are supporters and financial backers of both Walker and Gunderson, typically would have been fined $20,000-40,000 for such violations. Thanks to Gunderson's intervention, Herr was fined the legal minimum of $4,338.

George Meyer spent 32 years at DNR, served as head of enforcement for 15 years, and for eight years as secretary. He is now executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.

Meyer said the agency's handling of the Herr case shows the danger of replacing natural resource professionals with political appointees with mostly business or political backgrounds. "In my knowledge of the history of the department, I've never heard of anything like this," Meyer said of the Herr case. "Or of political influence to this degree, not only by a legislator but also by top administrators in the agency."

The Herr case was high-profile, but the day-to-day work of the DNR has also changed dramatically. The Wisconsin State Journal, in a scathing account of the Herr case, reported:

Enforcement by the DNR has dropped precipitously at the agency in the past two years with the issuance of violation notices reaching a 12-year low last year. Referrals to the Department of Justice also are down dramatically, from the 12-year annual average of 65 to 21 in 2011.
A conservation warden with DNR, Sue Miller, says the message is "don't write the ticket." George Meyer said: this:
"The numbers are so dramatic, it is clear there is a different philosophy toward enforcement," Meyer said. "And the message, the culture change, starts at the top. Staff reflects leadership."
Walker thinks his political appointees are doing a great job.
In a statement, Walker spokeswoman Julie Lund said Stepp was a "vital member" of Walker's cabinet, which is focused on "encouraging job creation, not discouraging it." "While radical environmentalists may not like this new cooperative and forward-looking approach of the DNR, I think most job creators, here and across the country, view it as a common sense balance that encourages growth while effectively safeguarding our environment," Lund's statement said.
Walker is a friend of his corporate patrons and an advocate of privatization. He chooses people who share his views, such as Gunderson, and the Deer Czar. Privatization of public lands would not be in the interests of hunters, or fishermen, or anyone who values public lands for recreation. It is also would not be good for Wisconsin's economy. Recreation brings people from other states into Wisconsin, along with millions of dollars.
A report commissioned by Trout Unlimited shows that recreational angling in the Driftless Area of southeast Minnesota, southwest Wisconsin, northeast Iowa, and northwest Illinois generates $1.1 billion to the local economy. For every dollar spent on stream restoration, an additional $25 is returned to the regional economy each year thereafter.

The list of assaults from the Walker administration on the waters and woods of Wisconsin is long already, and likely to get much longer if he remains in power. If you like to get out the deer rifle, put on an orange vest over your Carhart jacket and head to the woods, then you should be worried about what Walker will do to the places you love to go. If you love the sound of rushing water and the sight of a brown trout or a walleye breaking the water's surface on the end of your line, you should think about what Walker and his cronies were willing to do to the Mad River and its tributaries.

What is needed is not Deer Czars and crony capitalism in Madison. The Deer Czar does not have a magic answer to making sure that everyone who hunts gets a deer. What is needed is habitat management, which is something that DNR knows how to do, even as under-resourced as it has been in recent years. If there are so many deer that they are eating the forest understory away, that might be good hunting in a given year, but it is unsustainable. Wisconsin fishing is some of the best there is, but it requires attention to stream banks and water quality.


There has to be recognition of the land ethic, as Aldo Leopold called it--the long-term need to maintain deer herds and trout streams and much more. The desires of people to use these resources for pleasure and for food should be accommodated in ways that are sustainable. Wise management is a tradition in Wisconsin. Aldo Leopold:

The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land... In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.

Walker's governance takes none of this into account. If the citizens of Wisconsin decide to keep him, the resources of the land will continue to be funneled to the wealthy few. Flycaster described what that looks like:

I'm a trout bum. I've fished out west. Coming from Wisconsin and then going out to Colorado was an eye opener. Private waters? Who ever heard of such stupidity? There were whole sections of the rivers that I wanted to fish that were off limits unless I fronted the money for the privilege. It wasn't cheap either. So I went and got some maps from CDOW and found the rivers that I could fish without paying and plugged them into a hand held GPS and went fishing. I still had a guy tell me I was fishing private water when I damned well knew it was public access. Had the maps and GPS to prove it, and still called in a county boy to try and chase me out. Showed that man the maps and the GPS and was cleared. I tell my tale to the trout bums here and then listen to it in wonderment. Then I ask if that is what they want here. I tell them the same thing will eventually happen to the public land and then where are they going to hunt? Then ask do you really want to pay Texas prices for your venison? Then why would you vote for the guy who will do that to you? Kinda like shootin' yourself in the foot ain't it? Then take two steps back and watch the realization set in.

This is not Wisconsin now, but this is what is coming. The "divide and conquer" strategy that was used against workers is now being used on hunters, to convince them that they will have more and better opportunities brought to them courtesy of a high-fence expert from out of state, whose preliminary report is 80% a rehash of reports that the state already paid for in 2000 and 2004. There is nothing new here but a cynical use of public lands as a political wedge issue, and Wisconsinites should reject that.

Wisconsin Deer Hunting