Wisconsin suspends earn-a-buck hunting regulations
By Todd Richmond Associated Press
West Bend, Wis. (AP) — Bowing to pressure from hunters and legislators, Wisconsin wildlife officials finally decided Wednesday to mothball its contentious earn-a-buck program and look for other ways to control the state’s deer population.
The Natural Resources Board voted to suspend the program indefinitely everywhere except chronic wasting disease areas. The board also decided to set up a committee to come up with other population management techniques.
The decisions marked a victory for hunting groups that have grumbled about earn-a-buck for years.
The program requires hunters kill an antlerless deer before taking a buck. The DNR has held up the program as the most effective means of controlling a burgeoning deer herd in the state by reducing the number of does, but hunters despise it. They say it forces them to pass up trophy bucks. Thirty-five deer management units were subject to the requirements during last fall’s hunts.
“Earn-a-buck is an absolutely socially unacceptable solution to Wisconsin’s deer problems,” said Ed Harvey, who leads the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, a citizens advisory group to the Department of Natural Resources.
Complaints about the program peaked after DNR statistics showed hunters killed about 165,000 fewer deer in 2008 than in 2007. Hunters insisted they weren’t seeing deer and the DNR’s population estimate of 1.7 million deer before the traditional nine-day November gun hunt was overblown.
The agency acknowledged the numbers were high and the harsh 2007-08 winter and cold spring led to more deer deaths and reduced fawn production.
That gave hunting groups more ammunition to rail against earn-a-buck, saying it’s no longer needed. The DNR in March proposed four fewer earn-a-buck zones, and earlier this month DNR Secretary Matt Frank proposed suspending the program for the 2009 season but keeping 50 units designated as herd control zones, which means multiple hunts throughout the fall and winter for those areas.
“Hunters were disappointed,” said DNR big game expert Keith Warnke. “We listened.”
That wasn’t good enough for state Sen. Jim Holperin, D-Conover, who serves on the Senate’s rural issues committee, and Rep. Ann Hraychuck, D-Balsam Lake, a member of the Assembly’s natural resources committee.
They held public hearings on earn-a-buck in Spooner, Rhinelander and Madison. On Tuesday they sent a letter to Frank recommending earn-a-buck end indefinitely.
Board members balked at the thought at Wednesday’s meeting, saying earn-a-buck is the best tool they have to control deer reproduction, and the population could rebound even as the DNR gets closer to its overall goal of about 735,000 deer.
“You have to take a bigger view than what you see under your stand,” said board member John Welter. “I’m afraid this recommendation reflects a move away from what the science should be telling us.”
Jim Redemann, a hunter from the town of Fremont, implored board members to give hunters a choice again. He held up a picture of his son, J.J., with a doe he killed last fall.
“My son hunted three months to shoot this little doe fawn because there’s no does on our land,” he said. Then he flipped the picture over to reveal another photo, this one of J.J. with a buck.
“Four days later, he got a buck. Why are we put in that position? The DNR makes us do that,” Redemann said. “To me, that’s just not right. I’m not in the minority on this. Let us hunters go back to making the choices.”
George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, warned the board if they didn’t make a move, it was inevitable lawmakers would take over and do away with earn-a-buck through legislation. Frank agreed, saying lawmakers were “looking over our shoulder.”
The board voted 6-1 to adopt the moratorium and the 50 herd control units, with Welter the only vote against.
Board member Jane Wiley then proposed another resolution to suspend the program indefinitely and work to find management alternatives.
She said she attended Holperin and Hraychuck’s hearing in Madison and it was clear the board was about to lose control of deer management to lawmakers if it didn’t send a message it was serious about stopping earn-a-buck.
“We’re responding to the Legislature,” she said.
The board ultimately voted 6-1 – with Welter again the only opposing vote – to approve the indefinite suspension and create a study committee to come up with alternative herd control methods that might be more popular. The committee is supposed to turn over its recommendations before the 2010 hunting seasons. Frank also promised to review the agency’s population projections and methods.
Hraychuck said she was pleased with the board’s decisions. Lawmakers have indeed been pondering deer management legislation, she said.
“It would not be good to legislate things that should be determined by science and listening to the hunters,” Hraychuck said. “We got it done. It’s a great day for hunters.”
Bowhunting.Com wants to know how Wisconsin deer hunters feel about the State's Earn-A-Buck Program and if they agree or disagree with this latest decision. Please leave your comments below.