December 23, 2009
Santa wandered into a yard yelling ‘Have you seen my reindeer?’ But a nine year old girl knew right away it wasn’t really Santa.
“He smelled like alcohol. But I knew it wasn’t the real Santa because the real Santa doesn’t drink alcohol,” said the nine year old told WEAU TV. Her little sister had one word for Santa, “drunk.”
That story captures two issues the Wisconsin State Legislature focused on last week. Lawmakers convened an extraordinary Session and passed the most significant drunk driving legislation since .08 blood alcohol became the legal limit for drinking and driving.
And the very next day, hundreds of hunters streamed into the Capitol to ask lawmakers “where are my deer?”
The hunters pounded the Department of Natural Resources about deer management practices. Many agreed the state’s rules on “Earn a Buck” should have been overturned long before this year. Others were critical of management practices and hunting goals that should have been changed earlier to reflect several years of a declining deer population.
Wisconsin’s gun hunt was miserable with hunters only slaying about 195,000 deer – 29% less than last year. Minnesota also saw a decline – but only about twelve percent. Hunters attending the hearing complained the DNR did not listen when they reported seeing fewer deer in past years. State DNR officials countered they have many opportunities for input and are constantly reviewing comments received by hunters.
We are learning the deer population is fluctuating across Wisconsin with our part of the state generally seeing a healthier population and northern counties seeing sharp declines.
I spoke with Representative Ann Hraychuck, Chair of the Assembly Fish and Wildlife Committee who said it was a very successful hearing. “The room was packed,” she said. “It’s very good for the DNR and legislators to see the hunters face to face The most important part of the political process is the public hearing because that is where hunters get to voice their opinions.”
“The problem is complicated,” she told me. “One of the big issues is the baseline deer population in the state. There is a lot of controversy in how the DNR comes up with this number. There are many things factored in – deer car kills; sex, age kill; crop damage claims and hunter observation. The DNR has sought public input. They had extra deer management hearings this year, provided comment opportunities on the kill tag and sought information through their website. But hunters don’t think the DNR is listening when hunters don’t see the deer.”
“It is encouraging for me to hear Matt Frank, (the Secretary of DNR) talk about growing the deer population to goals where hunters will see them in the woods. We are all concerned about hunter retention. It’s a billion dollar industry in Wisconsin. One hunter told me his teenage son sold his deer rifle because he didn’t see any deer and wasn’t going to hunt any more. This concerns me. The legislature worked very hard to pass the hunter mentoring bill. But if young hunters don’t see the deer in the woods they are going to go back to their computer games.”
Finding deer and working toward a successful hunting season will be a challenge for the New Year. Finding drunken drivers, looking like Santa or otherwise, and working to keep them off the road is a challenge lawmakers addressed last week.
The Senate and the Assembly reconciled their differences and updated drunk driving laws to focus on preventing individuals from driving while intoxicated, increasing treatment options and increasing penalties for those who choose to drive drunk.
The bill uses “ignition interlocks” (a device the driver must blow in to before the vehicle will start) to prevent a repeat offender or a first time offender with a blood alcohol level of .15 or higher from being able to drive drunk. Treatment options like the successful Winnebago County Safe Streets pilot program, which gives judges options in sentencing those who complete alcohol and drug treatment, will be expanded statewide.
These changes are aimed at preventing the tragedy of drunk driving. Sen. Jim Sullivan, author of the OWI legislation said, “Our history in this state is replete with instances where somebody’s joyous occasion and holidays have been turned into tragedy because of alcohol-related accidents.”
May we all enjoy a safer holiday season.