Last week, the Wisconsin Conservation Congress gathered to present their spring hearing information. Both outdoors enthusiasts and regular folk alike were encouraged to give their opinion on a wide range of policy issues within the state Department of Natural Resources, from standardizing fishing seasons to PFAS regulations to wildlife killing contests.
The Wisconsin Conservation Congress was created in 1937, as a way to allow the public to weigh in on issues concerning the state’s natural resources, and is a completely separate entity from the state DNR. Citizen appointed delegates work as a liaison between the Natural Resources Board, the state DNR, and residents. Paul Reith is one of those delegates, and represents the area containing Dane County.
“The Conservation Congress was created by a statute by the state legislature as an advisory body to the state government on natural resources issues. That comes from us advising the Natural Resources Board, but also through involvement and cooperation – sometimes, and sometimes conflict – with the department of Natural Resources. It’s really our job as volunteers to bring the perspectives of citizens of Wisconsin to the department and help ensure that all voices are heard,” Reith says.
Each spring, the congress sends out a survey on policy issues regarding Wisconsin’s attitudes towards natural resources. This year’s state survey contained 63 questions, with an additional 42 questions being submitted by and for Dane County residents.
Reith says that while the congress touched on all sorts of issues, there was one that seemed to stand out more than others.
“There was a lot of interest this year in different resolutions that focused on environmental factors, such as the lead shot. There were a great deal of environmental questions, and questions that just came up about overall usage. Of course we get the perennial questions on things like size limits and bad limits on lakes, and CWD and other things that have to do with wildlife,” Reith says.
One of the hottest issues in this year’s spring hearing was how the DNR should go about dealing with PFAS issues. There were two questions on this year’s survey regarding PFAS. The first question asked if people would support additional PFAS testing in drinking water across Wisconsin. The overwhelming answer to this question was yes, with over 78%, or around 17,000 people, advocating for the additional testing. The second question was more open-ended, asking if people supported the DNR to continue to advocate for PFAS protections and clean-up. This question was even more popular, with over 81%, or 18,000 people saying yes.
“The challenge with (PFAS) is that it behaves differently, and that’s where we have the question about additional testing is, we’re trying to gauge, at some point we know that very little is known but how concerned are the people of Wisconsin? I’m really excited about not only the drinking water measurements, but just to continue to do more analysis and learn more about where PFAS is statewide,” Reith says.
Also in this year’s congress was the topic of wildlife killing contests. A wildlife killing contest is a hunting competition where hunters see who can kill the most of a given animal, usually something like rabbits or coyotes. Respondents were much more split on this issue, with about 44% in favor of banning the practice, and about 43% against banning the contests.
Similarly, game farms and hunting preserves were also debated in the congress. A game farm is a farm where hunters can pay to hunt a specific animal in a private setting closed off from public land. Here in Wisconsin, this animal is usually pheasants, which are bred on the farm to then be let loose on the property for people to hunt. People were overwhelmingly against the presence of game farms in Wisconsin, with over 11,000 people saying they opposed the practice, and just under 4,000 supporting the farms.
Over 28,000 people took this year’s Conservation Congress Survey, and while larger organizations are allowed a voice at the congress, the goal of the Conservation Congress is still focused on individual citizens of Wisconsin, and all questions must come from those individuals.
Kari Lee-Zimmerman is the Conservation Congress liaison for the DNR, acting as the go-between for the two organizations. She says that she considers this year’s hearing a success.
“I’m really pleased with the results, like the number of people we had participating, I think it was really impressive to see such a large number of people that want to be involved in resource management. I think that’s really great to see,” Lee-Zimmermann says.
Photo courtesy: Irina Iriser / UNSPLASH