April 12, 2024 at 5:55 a.m.

Governor vetoes bucks-only bill for Northern hunters

Other vetoes include wolf population goal

Outdoors Writer

With last fall’s deer harvest down almost 30% in the Northern Forest from 2022 and over 19% from the five-year average, many hunters in the Northwoods have expressed grave concern about the deer herd. The Winter Severity Index (WSI) was severe for many areas of the north last year, but that, coupled with an increase in uncontrolled predator numbers, hunters said, was causing a downturn in deer numbers seen in the woods.

Last winter, after what many termed a dismal hunt in the Northwoods, Representatives Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander) and Calvin Callahan (R-Tomahawk) partnered with Senator Mary Felzkowski (R-Tomahawk) to put together a deer hunt listening session in Woodruff. Just under 200 people attended the meeting, relaying to legislators just how badly the deer herd in the north has declined. Many said herd numbers were at a “crisis” level.

From there, a bill was drafted that passed in both houses to address the issues hunters were seeing in the Northern Forest. 

This bill called for two things. The first was not allowing doe harvest in the zone. The second provision called for restrictions on the antlered harvest. It would prohibit the DNR from issuing more than one tag in that zone “during either an open season for hunting deer with a muzzle-loading firearm or an open season for hunting deer with a firearm.” However, it did include a provision that if a hunter did not fill that tag during one of those seasons, it may be held over and used for the other season. 

There was a similar provision in the bill for crossbow season and traditional archery season. Again, if the tag was not filled by the hunter in one season, it could then be filled in the other season during that authorization year.

During the meeting in Woodruff, several hunters spoke about the lack of deer in the woods during last fall’s hunting season. Many called this bill a step in the right direction. If nothing else, the sentiment was that its creation would at least call attention to the issue. 

Governor Tony Evers ultimately vetoed the bill, saying the County Deer Advisory Committees had created bucks-only hunts when conditions called for it.

“I am vetoing this bill in its entirety because I object to circumventing the established County Deer Advisory Council process, which provides opportunities for public input on proposed deer population estimates and harvest quotas,” he stated in his veto message. “The councils may recommend a bucks-only season based on population estimates and feedback from the public. Many deer management units have successfully implemented bucks-only hunts in recent years due to concerns over low deer population estimates.”

Representative Chanz Green (R-Grand View), who has been very involved with hunters and sportsmen and women across the Northern Forest Zone, with both deer hunting concerns as well as predator numbers, said he felt Governor Evers was not representing Northern Wisconsin hunters. 

This bill, as well as two others Evers vetoed, Green said, were heavily supported in the north. Those bills included provisions for dog hunting, training and trailing as well as a population goal for wolves. 

“Balancing the goal of providing hunters with successful hunting experiences and ensuring healthy forest habitats in Northern Wisconsin requires both collaboration and the flexibility to address challenges as they arise,” Evers said in his statement.

Other bills vetoed

Evers also vetoed a bill that would have restricted the DNR’s ability to enact a deer feeding and baiting ban based on a positive Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) test from a captive cervid facility. 

Currently, by state statute, when a deer is found to test positive for CWD in either a wild or captive herd, the county in which the positive test was found will be under a feeding and baiting ban for a period of three years. Any county within a 10-mile radius of where the animal was harvested or found would be under that ban for a period of two years. 

“I am vetoing this bill in its entirety because I object to limiting the ability of the department to reduce the spread of chronic wasting disease and bovine tuberculosis in Wisconsin,” Evers said. “This bill disregards scientific research that suggests that chronic wasting disease can be transmitted between captive and free-roaming deer. Given that baiting and feeding are known risk factors in the transmission of chronic wasting disease, this bill would limit the department’s ability to effectively respond to new positive cases in captive deer.”

Assembly bill 512 was also rejected by Evers. That bill would have repealed the prohibition of “hunting or pursuing any free-roaming animal with the aid of a dog from May 1 to June 30 in a portion of the state north of certain east-west highways.” 

It would have also have repealed the restrictions on training and trailing in that area during that time period. 

Evers vetoed this bill because, he said, he objected to “increasing the risk of harassment against ground-nesting birds, deer fawns, bear cubs and other wildlife.”

Evers also vetoed Assembly bill 137 which called for a wolf management plan that would establish a statewide wolf population goal. He listed several reasons for vetoing the bill in its entirety. One reason was, in his estimation, a numeric population goal did not take into consideration the “social, scientific, biological and legal complexities of a recovered wolf population.” Evers also objected to limiting the DNR’s flexibility to address local or regional population issues through the “adaptive management” approach set forth in the controversial wolf management plan. Evers also felt any modifications to the management plan should be done as part of the established review process through  the DNR and the Natural Resources Board.

Beckie Gaskill may be reached at [email protected].


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