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Editor's note: On May 11th, DNR Secretary Darrell Bazzell addressed the annual Conservation Congress convention in Mishicot. The secretary discussed short-term issues and long-term challenges to bolster hunting and fishing. We found his remarks meaty, provocative and worth sharing with an even wider audience of people concerned about the outdoors. Here's a summary of his thoughts.
I appreciate the opportunity to assure you the Department of Natural Resources is in good hands, tell you a little about myself, and talk about some challenges we face. I'll describe eight new ideas I want on the conservation agenda to help promote and expand hunting and fishing opportunities.
My transition from deputy to secretary of the Department of Natural Resources has been exhausting, but exhilarating. Former DNR Secretary George Meyer remains my mentor, my coach and my good friend. And I'm honored to continue providing leadership that the agency and Wisconsin's natural resources need and deserve. Wisconsin has a tremendous natural legacy: diverse and abundant fish and wildlife, clean air, clean water, beautiful landscapes. We have a top-notch, dedicated corps of natural resource professionals. We have citizens who care deeply about Wisconsin's natural resources and are willing to commit their time, money and energy to sustain our outdoor opportunities. I am honored to work with you and other citizens to safeguard Wisconsin's natural resource treasures and the recreation they support.
I take counsel from the expertise of DNR's dedicated fish and wildlife managers and other natural resource professionals, then I make my decisions based on sound science by working with partners. By partners, I mean you and other citizens affected by DNR decisions who have an interest in those actions and issues.
I also am well prepared for this job. As DNR's deputy secretary for the last five years, I've been responsible for running the day-to-day business of an organization with 3,000 employees and a $462 million budget. I'm experienced managing DNR's planning and analysis office. At the Department of Agriculture, I oversaw the first program to control gypsy moths. When I worked at the Department of Health and Family Services, I specialized in environmental issues.
My life experiences also guide how I approach my job. I've lived in congested cities with poor air quality, and I'm deeply committed to assuring that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy clean air, clean water and healthy landscapes. I'll never forget my childhood memories of the smog in Los Angeles and the heat in downtown Washington, D.C. We moved frequently when I was a child. I have learned to be open to change, to new ideas and to work well with others. I am a listener and a collaborator as well as a leader. As DNR Secretary, I will bring people together to get the job done.
I've been very lucky to have friends who introduced me and encouraged me to discover Wisconsin's great outdoors. These hunting mentors have enriched my life. I've grown to enjoy hunting and fishing and I appreciate the almost spiritual bond these activities form with nature, family and friends. I am deeply committed to preserving these traditions.
How do we work to sustain our collective natural home and pass on what is best in it? I believe we preserve the Department of Natural Resources as one integrated, comprehensive agency because it is the best, most economical way to assure quality outdoor recreation.
The decisions we make on land, on water quality and on the state's air directly impact our game, fish, forests and recreation. You can't have abundant, healthy fish without good water quality. You can't restore species such as elk, wolves or whooping cranes without good habitat. You can't hunt without places to hunt. You can't fish without boat ramps and access to piers.
We also continue protecting and restoring the habitat that fish, wildlife and people equally depend on. We retain our hunting, fishing and trapping heritage and expand outdoor opportunities for all Wisconsin citizens.
This year, everyone had the chance to enjoy the benefits of integrated natural resources management. Hunting and fishing have never been better in our lifetimes. Wisconsin hunters set a national record for deer harvest in 2000 – 618,374 deer, and they will find great hunting opportunities again this fall. We are a whitetail heaven, and last year we drew hunters from all 50 states and from 27 countries. Turkey hunters received a record 150,129 permits for the spring hunt. Waterfowl hunters enjoyed their third consecutive year of a 60-day season. Bear hunters harvested 3,071 bears, 100 more than the year before.
Anglers enjoyed excellent fishing last year, and our fish managers predict similar prospects for 2001, with particularly strong opportunities for bass, trout and walleye. Trout anglers are in particularly good shape. They just wrapped up their first permanent early trout season. This summer, they can find trout in several thousand more miles of Wisconsin waters that have been reclassified as trout streams, thanks to long-term erosion controls and projects to improve in-stream habitat.
We are also deeply encouraged by sound public policy shown by legislative action to preserve upland wetlands that are the nesting and fueling stations for our waterfowl; nurseries for many of our fish.Wisconsin just became the first state to restore protection for wetlands left in limbo by a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision. We will become the first state to require utilities to reduce the mercury emissions that contaminate our waterways, our fish and ultimately, ourselves.
Our agency actions are equally impressive. We lead the nation in removing obsolete dams to improve fisheries, and we are a leader in restoring wild species to our landscape. Elk, wolves and whooping cranes are the latest, following on the heels of spectacular successes with turkeys, trumpeter swans and bald eagles. Trout Unlimited has called our inland trout program a national model.
Funding our outdoor future
The tightening budget climate presents challenges to continue that fine history of performance. While the Department of Natural Resources is spending your fish and wildlife dollars appropriately, we have been powerless to stop numerous raids on DNR accounts. The forestry and parks accounts have been repeatedly raided to pay for general tax relief. In the last several biennia, $39 million has been taken out of the Forestry Account for tax relief. $2.3 million has been removed from the Parks Account for the same purpose.
At the same time, we need to address funding and staff shortages for fish and wildlife management. Twenty-four of Wisconsin's 72 counties do not have wildlife managers, yet wildlife managers are being asked to do far more now than they were asked to do 30 years ago. The amount of public land to manage has nearly tripled since the 1960s, and we have added new programs for wild turkey, wild pheasant, elk and other species. Whitetail deer numbers are at record highs, and require constant management attention. Our wildlife staff is stretched to the point of breaking.
The situation is equally tough for fisheries staff. They must accommodate a growing number of anglers at the same time shoreline development is destroying habitat and exotic species are taking their toll. Fifty biologists cover all 72 counties and the Great Lakes, with some biologists responsible for all the lakes and rivers in one, two, and sometimes three counties. One biologist in Vilas County is responsible for managing 1,318 lakes and hundreds of stream miles in his county; others in northern Wisconsin face similar challenges. We need to increase the number of fisheries biologists to survey fish populations, identify and protect critical shoreline habitat, and evaluate whether stocking and fishing regulations are working.
With your help, we hope to get additional federal help through the Conservation and Reinvestment Act, also known as CARA. This act would invest federal oil revenue in state projects. Wisconsin would receive about $28 million each year for efforts like coastal habitat restoration, land acquisition, wildlife and historic preservation. Wisconsin's CARA coalition is the largest in the nation, with more than 300 conservation organizations participating. We need your active leadership again this year to finally pass CARA.
We also need your support to reinforce with state lawmakers that fish and wildlife management should receive the attention and resources they deserve. Wisconsin's natural resources anchor an $8 billion tourism industry, they foster our high quality of life and they create our favorite memories. We must invest more in these valuable assets. A report by the Izaak Walton League of America shows that wildlife-related recreation generates $208 million in sales and income tax revenues for Wisconsin. Yet, the state returns less than one percent of that money to the Department of Natural Resources to invest in fish and wildlife programs that produce so well for our economy. The state's fish and wildlife – its hunters, anglers and other outdoor recreationists – deserve more than that.
Eight hunting and fishing challenges
Finally, I want to talk to you about the challenge that is probably closest to your heart – outdoor recreation.
Outdoor experiences connect people with natural resources in a way few other activities do. Our changing lifestyle can be a barrier to building these connections. More children are growing up in urban areas in families that don't hunt or fish, as I did. I was fortunate to have mentors who gave me the gift of hunting and fishing.
We can introduce new people to the outdoors and bolster the right to hunt, fish and trap. I have created a new position and two teams to advise me on conservation matters, to make preserving, promoting and expanding these traditions a top priority.
I am pleased to announce these initiatives to help expand hunting and fishing to build the next generation of stewards.
Implement Deer 2000 – First, I have directed our wildlife and research staff to prepare a five-year plan to implement the Deer 2000 recommendations to improve the public's confidence in deer population estimates. The recommendations were the result of three years of hard work by the Conservation Congress and the public who attended meetings and hearings. Nearly all of the $323,900 in the governor's budget for implementing Deer 2000 will be used on this five-year plan. In addition, we recommend investing a one-time addition of $300,000 from Pittman-Robertson dollars for this effort. We have a 21st century deer herd. We should not try to manage it with 1960s-era monitoring budgets.
Stock more pheasants – I know that increasing pheasant hunting opportunities is important to many, particularly hunters in southeastern Wisconsin. Wildlife Management Director Tom Hauge told me that producing 10,000 more pheasants each year at the Poynette State Game Farm would go a long way toward meeting this need. So we will. We'll find the first $100,000 needed for this increase and work with lawmakers to find long-term funding to keep it going.
I'll also ask the legislature to give our fledgling elk program resources to keep moving forward as we prepare for Wisconsin's first limited elk hunt.
Stock new fish and sustain habitat – Anglers will benefit from a number of new efforts to introduce new species or re-establish fisheries.
Since late April, DNR fisheries crews have stocked a new strain of rainbow trout in six ports along Lake Michigan to increase opportunities for people who fish from shore and from small boats. The shore anglers' share of the trout and salmon sport harvest has slipped from 6 percent to 3 percent over the last decade, possibly because clearer water and other factors drove the fish further out. We expect this new strain of Arlee rainbow trout will stay in the near-shore areas. We stocked 72,000 seven-inch fish in Sister Bay, Algoma, Milwaukee, Kenosha, Manitowoc and Sheboygan. The fish should be legal-size by late summer or early next year. We will stock these same ports for the next two years, and will use creel surveys to decide if the program should continue.
We will move ahead with plans to re-establish Great Lakes spotted musky in Green Bay and portions of Lake Michigan. We started stocking in lower Green Bay and would like to expand to Sturgeon Bay, the upper Fox and the pool lakes of the Winnebago system. This spring we sent fisheries crews to Lake St. Claire in partnership with the Michigan DNR to collect eggs for this effort.
Keep strengthening sturgeon populations – We continue to restore and enhance sturgeon in Wisconsin to capitalize on the removal of old, unsafe dams and to improve habitat on streams that historically supported sturgeon. We're propagating sturgeon too. DNR staff at the Wild Rose Hatchery and in Oshkosh have pioneered the ways to raise sturgeon with financial support from fishing organizations. We have stocked sturgeon in the Menominee, Wisconsin, Flambeau, Namekagon, Chippewa and Wolf rivers, and the waters of Lake Superior.
Restore Lake Superior brook trout – We are working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Trout Unlimited to complete a restoration plan for Lake Superior brook trout. Brook trout remain in most of our streams, but the large colorful lake-run coasters are a casualty of overfishing and degraded habitat.
Invest in our hatcheries to bolster fishing – It's especially useful to provide fishing opportunities in waters where pollution, habitat loss and other factors mean the lake, river or stream no longer supports naturally reproducing fish populations.
We are starting projects to stock larger walleye and musky fingerlings so more will reach adult size. Creel surveys confirm that walleye remains number one in the hearts of anglers. DNR is raising 92,000 larger walleye fingerlings this fall in addition to 4,867,000 small fingerlings that were stocked in spring and summer. As we stock these larger walleye we will evaluate the costs per fish that reach adult size. If it's effective, we will increase production in the future.
Fisheries Director Mike Staggs and his staff just completed a report that compares statewide fish stocking needs with capacity at our existing hatcheries. Our 14 hatcheries and three rearing stations can't meet long-term demand. Some hatcheries, most of which are 50 to 100 years old, fail to meet environmental laws.
I will ask lawmakers for funding for hatchery maintenance and expansion so we can increase fingerling production by 200,000 wild trout, 760,000 walleye, 27,000 muskellunge, 80,000 northern pike, and 70,000 sturgeon. We especially need to renovate the Wild Rose State Fish Hatchery, which produces one-quarter of the trout and salmon we stock, three-quarters of the northern pike, and all of the sturgeon and Great Lakes spotted musky. Wild Rose is old. We bought it in the early 1900s and we need to repair failing outdoor rearing ponds, earthen raceways and artesian wells there. Nevin State Fish Hatchery in Fitchburg needs work, too. We need to replace a large, outdated rearing tank with several smaller tanks more suited to wild trout. We also need to renovate the raceways and improve our well and wastewater systems.
Keep providing public spaces – All outdoor users will benefit from continuing efforts to acquire more public lands. We've added an average of 16,000 acres every year through the Stewardship Program. Our priority this year is protecting lands along the Peshtigo River flowages that are in danger of being sold and carved up for development. These 9,000+ acres next to the new Tommy Thompson State Park have a wilderness quality that would be a tragedy to lose.
Other acquisitions are in the works: the new 5,500-acre Turtle Valley Wildlife Area in Walworth County, a 3,000-acre expansion to the Grand River Wildlife Area in Marquette County, 110 acres to the Onion River Fishery Area in Sheboygan County, and 555 acres to the Killsnake Wildlife Area, just a few miles west of Mishicot.
We also will work hard with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore wetlands under the federal Wetland Reserve Program. We have a goal of restoring 10,000 to 20,000 acres a year on top of what we can do through the Stewardship Program.
Expand information, education and outreach – We've made great strides to get information about natural resources and outdoor recreation on the web, on the airwaves and into the hands of readers. We will continue that commitment, and use it to help us get more kids and adults into the great outdoors.
We'll support the kids' television show, Into the Outdoors, that we launched in January with Discover Wisconsin. It follows the adventures of young hosts who communicate by e-mail and surf the Internet to find out what's going on outdoors. They go outside to have fun and learn about outdoor recreation. The show has already taken kids ice fishing and turkey hunting, they've practiced recreation safety and attended a sturgeon celebration and feast on the Menominee Reservation. The show airs on Saturday and Sunday mornings on ABC affiliates statewide. We hope it fills a long-standing request to offer more educational leadership about the environment and natural resources. We are seeking outside groups to help us sponsor Into the Outdoors. The Wisconsin Wildlife Federation has stepped up and pledged $10,000. We hope this generous gift will spur other organizations to help fund this show.
Our online magazine for kids, called EEK! (Environmental Education for Kids), supplies background information for Into the Outdoors and offers a place for kids to go for more details. It's designed for kids in grades 4 through 8, their teachers and their parents. It's one website you don't have to worry about your kids visiting.
EEK! has hauled in some prestigious national awards, including the Wildlife Society's Conservation Education Award for 2000. The online magazine was recently named a semi-finalist in a program to award innovation in state government. The National Science Teachers Association informed us it will feature links to EEK! in its textbooks so kids, their parents and their teachers can enhance what they learn with online information.
We didn't ignore traditional media this year. We published a fishing season preview in tabloid newspaper format, sent 100 copies to each license agent and larger supplies to our service centers. And of course our magazine Wisconsin Natural Resources, continues to reach outdoor enthusiasts and Conservation Patrons at their homes.
These eight initiatives will help provide greater opportunities for those who have already discovered the joys of Wisconsin's great outdoors. We believe they will help introduce new generations to our time-honored traditions, and they will help create another generation of outdoor stewards for the 21st century.