Letter to the DNR on the Sporting Heritage Rules

White-tailed Deer, Big Bay State Park.  Photo by Callen Harty.

White-tailed Deer, Big Bay State Park. Photo by Callen Harty.

To Whom It May Concern:

This is response to the new Department of Natural Resources rules regarding the Sporting Heritage Bill that was passed by the Legislature and which goes into effect in January.  I am not able to go the meeting for additional public input on Tuesday so I am writing to you today.  I am appalled at what I have read in the newspapers regarding the rules that have already been announced.  Prior to the upcoming meeting on Tuesday it was as if you had sought no input from the general public at all and simply decided that you would expand hunting as much as possible.

It is within the rights of the Department of Natural Resources delineated in the bill that you can restrict hunting within 100 yards of any designated use area such as beaches, campgrounds, etc.  I would suggest that hiking and ski trails are designated use areas as much as beaches.  Not all state parks or other public state lands have beaches, but virtually all of them have designated hiking and/or skiing trails which are used in every season.  For the safety of those who use these trails hunting should be restricted in most parts of most of our public spaces.

Please understand that while I don’t hunt, fish, or trap myself I have many friends who do and I understand that it is an important part of Wisconsin’s heritage.  I understand the need for keeping the populations of certain animals under control and I understand that hunting is a part of the overall plan for doing that.  However, I do not believe that hunting should take precedence over all other uses on public lands and I believe that the safety of Wisconsin citizens should be foremost among your considerations in promulgating rules.

I also believe that allowing sportsmen to hunt and trap for seven months out of the year in our state parks and state wildlife areas is unfair to all the citizens of the state who use these wild places for other purposes.  Our state parks, forests, and natural areas are among the treasures of this great state and have always been reserved for multiple uses.  In my opinion they should not be used for hunting at all, given how many people use them for other purposes.  If you are being fair to hunters and allowing some hunting then it should be severely limited.

There are many, many citizens who hike in the winter months, cross-country ski, or just travel to one of our state parks to engage in sightseeing, photography, and more.  But the rules released this past week aren’t even just for the winters months.  They are for mid-October to mid-May.  Today is December 8 and I was out hiking at a county park this afternoon.  Winter in Wisconsin doesn’t make hikers or others disappear any more than it makes hunters stay at home.  We Badgers like our outdoors in all seasons, whether we hunt with a gun or a camera.  Risking the lives and well-being of all other users for the benefit of hunters is unconscionable, particularly when there are thousands of acres of public and private hunting lands already available for avid sportsmen to use.

I don’t want to pay fees for an annual sticker (which I have purchased every year for decades) and then only feel safe being able to use it for less than half of the year.  Even if I wear blaze orange as a hiker/photographer there is a danger of getting killed or injured by a hunter’s mistake.  Every year during the short deer hunting season there are reports of hunters accidentally shooting other hunters or innocent bystanders.  Former Brewer Robin Yount just shot his friend and former teammate Dale Sweum in a hunting accident this past week.  Even if I don’t get hit by a stray bullet the peace and solitude that those of us who commune with nature seek out will be spoiled by the sounds of hunters killing the wildlife we go there to see and enjoy.

Simply put, this is one of the most ridiculous and short-sighted bills to pass the legislature.  How it got through without most of the public even knowing about it is amazing.  I understand that the Department did not pass this bill and cannot overturn it.  I understand that you must only figure out how to institute the law, but it is also incumbent upon you as an agency that must look out for the interests of all the users of our parks and natural areas to make sure that everyone is safe and that the most people can get the most enjoyment out of our natural resources.  I urge you to scale back on the rules as much as possible within the constraints of the law and keep our state parks and other lands safe for all Wisconsin families and users.  If not, I fear for the safety of my fellow citizens who will risk their lives by reconnecting with nature.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on Amazon.com (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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