November 23, 2011
Do you hunt or fish? Want some say in the rules? You can go to the spring Conservation Congress meeting and vote on hunting and fishing rules.
But a law passed in May shuts down the voice of the Conservation Congress. This new law needs to be changed.
Every spring hunters and anglers gather in school auditoriums, listen to presentations and cast their ballots. Hunters and anglers vote on advisory questions, resolutions, and elect county delegates. Later in the year the elected leaders of the Conservation Congress work with the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to seek approval of the rules.
It’s as much a Wisconsin tradition as the nine-day gun hunt. And it’s about to change.
At a recent DNR Board meeting, members heard why these annual spring meetings cannot continue. The reason: a new law – Act 21 – that requires gubernatorial approval at the beginning and the end of the rule-making process.
Act 21 significantly changes the state’s rule-making process. The result is a much longer process that begins and ends with the governor.
“Act 21 places unprecedented power in the hands of the governor,” wrote the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last July. “Is it necessary or desirable for a governor to approve even a change in hunting season dates or a fish bag limit?”
Rule-making is a rather obscure part of state government. Once a law is passed, the agency responsible for the new law sets down the details of how the law will be actually carried out. Those details are generally not contained in a new law but do follow the intent of the legislature. Sometimes old rules need to be revised.
Many hunting and fishing rules change as wildlife management practices change. Local citizens provide input to these changes in the annual spring meetings. For example, hunters can now shoot from a hay wagon not attached to a truck or tractor. This came about because citizens voted last spring to support the change.
Encouraging ice fishing with a free ice fishing weekend is another citizen idea that came through the Conservation Congress and is now part of Wisconsin law. This is a designated weekend where no fishing license is required.
Proponents of Act 21 argued the law would streamline the regulatory process; but the result was exactly the opposite.
“Act 21 substantially delays the adoption of hunting, fishing and trapping rules which are strongly supported by Wisconsin sportsmen and women through the Conservation Congress process,” said George Meyer, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation. “The Conservation Congress assures that there is strong support for hunting, fishing and trapping regulation in the state and Act 21 is truly excessive government red tape and overkill.”
DNR officials say Act 21 doubles the time needed to approve a rule. Even the Governor’s spokesman acknowledged the law extended the rule-making process. This new bureaucracy changes the spring conservation meetings; perhaps to meeting only every other year. This plan does not sit well with Congress officials who still plan to hold annual meetings even if their input is not wanted every year.
The Conservation Congress has been around since 1934. It was created to give citizens a voice in all matters related to conservation. According to its website, the Wisconsin Conservation Congress is the only ‘advisory body’ in the state where citizens elect delegates to represent their interests by working with the DNR.
Overlaying the very democratic process of the Conservation Congress with the new hierarchical rule-making process of Act 21 just doesn’t work.
I wrote a bill to make the Conservation Congress exempt from Act 21. The bill would return to the democratic process followed during the annual, local spring meetings.
Democracy is defined in words written on the ceiling of the Governor’s Conference Room – ‘the will of the people is the law of the land’. There’s no clearer example of this than the work of the Conservation Congress. Let’s keep it this way!