Conservation Congress Spring Hearing Results

May 25, 2020

The Conservation Congress Spring hearing results are out, but haven’t gotten a lot of attention—that is until the Masked Biologist decided to examine the results of some very important questions in this week’s wildlife matters.

This year, for the first time ever, the Wisconsin Conservation Congress held its annual Spring Hearings strictly online. That may not mean anything to you, at least not yet. You may not even know what Conservation Congress is. I can tell you in all honesty, I was born and raised in Wisconsin and I had never heard of the Conservation Congress until I was out of college. The brainchild of Aldo Leopold, the Wisconsin Conservation Congress was conceptualized in 1934, and has been advising the state on management of its natural resources ever since. It was officially recognized as a statutory body in 1971 when the state legislature gave it formal statutory recognition and authority as an advisory body to the Natural Resources Board. One-of-a-kind in the nation, all 72 counties are represented by five delegates elected by peers from among the general public to represent their interests in a broad range of natural resources matters. Each year, in-person spring meetings are held to elect delegates and vote on local resolutions and advisory questions for both the Department of Natural Resources and the Wisconsin Conservation Congress. The results of the voting help direct the future of natural resources management in the state.

This spring, the spring hearing vote received almost 65,000 responses, a record-setting level of involvement. In normal years, responses and participation are a small fraction of that amount. By comparison, last year was the first year where people were given the option of voting either in person or online, and the overall participation was 10,700, 7,300 of which were online.

I was very interested in the results of this year’s vote. Not because of the questions about crossbows and season lengths, although that is important. No, I was interested in the results of several non-toxic ammunition questions. It seems obvious to me that we should use non-toxic materials for hunting and fishing. By definition, if we are considering moving to non-toxic metals, that would mean that right now we are firing toxic metals at our food and into the environment. There were seven questions about non-toxic ammunition, and the results were pretty interesting. The first question was whether the state should require the use of non-toxic shot on all state own or managed properties (except shooting ranges) and the question narrowly passed among Wisconsin residents—almost 29,000 voted yes and just over 26,000 voted no. Now before you open the champagne, the following questions were basically subsets of that question. Over 32,000 people opposed the idea of requiring non-toxic bullets and slugs (basically for deer and bear) on state lands. A narrow margin supported statewide use of non-toxic shot for doves statewide, which already has a partial restriction of non-toxic shot use only on state lands now. Non-toxic shot for pheasants on state land passed by less than a thousand votes, but non-toxic shot for turkeys and grouse on state lands were both defeated by thousands of votes. Finally, use of non-toxic ammunition for small mammals like rabbits and squirrels on state lands was defeated by over 10,000 votes.

What does it all mean? These are advisory questions, intended to get a sense of how the general public feels about implementing rules or regulations. Passing or failing does not mean a subsequent rule or law will or will not follow. For me, it illustrates that people know non-toxic ammunition probably should be required, but they don’t want to admit it. The individuals that I have spoken to on this topic usually feel that they can cut enough of the lead out of the wound channel on deer, and don’t think they eat enough lead BBs to cause a concern. They don’t seem to make the connection between the lead poisoning in birds that eat lead BBs as grit or ingest lead while feeding on deer carcasses and gut piles in fall and winter. Ultimately, though, people don’t want to pay more money or make a change from how they have always hunted—it comes down to personal accountability vs. comfort, convenience and cost.