By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The state Department of Natural Resources board voted Thursday to revise antlerless deer quotas in some northern Wisconsin counties, hoping to defuse complaints that it violated open-meeting laws and ignored local recommendations when it tightened kill limits last month.
The seven-member board adopted 2020 deer season quotas during a meeting June 24. The plan reduced antlerless quotas in 11 northern counties — Bayfield, Burnett, Douglas, Florence, Langlade, Lincoln, Marinette, Oconto, Oneida, Sawyer and Vilas — in an attempt to allow the herd to grow.
Three former board members, Dave Clausen, John Welter and Fred Clark, accused four current members of developing the quota-reduction plan in a walking quorum ahead of the meeting and failing to give the other three members or the public adequate notice of the plan before it was presented. Clausen drafted a complaint naming chairman Fred Prehn, Greg Kazmierski, Terry Hilgenberg and Bill Bruins in the quorum.
Citizen-advisory committees in the affected counties, meanwhile, blasted the board for disregarding their recommendations.
Faced with the mounting criticism, board Chairman Fred Prehn called a special video conference Thursday morning to reconsider the board’s actions. The board voted 6-1 to restore the committees’ quota recommendations for Bayfield, Douglas, Sawyer and Burnett counties.
No board members directly addressed the open meetings allegations during the two-hour conference, although Prehn said it has been difficult to share information with the public and board members during the coronavirus pandemic. The board spent most of the meeting listening to members of citizen advisory committees complain that their recommendations were ignored.
Al Horvath, chairman of the Douglas County advisory committee, said the board cut its quota recommendations in half. He said the majority of hunters who responded to a committee survey want higher limits. Ralph Fritsch, a member of the Oconto County committee, railed that the board reduced the committee’s 150-antlerless limit for the county’s northern forest area to zero.
“We need some help from you to realize we’re doing our job and not cut our feet out from underneath us,” Fritsch said.
The board member Bill Smith proposed restoring committee recommendations in the four counties, saying they made good arguments that the board must respect. Prehn called the proposal a compromise.
Kazmierski, who spearheaded the plan to cut the quotas, cast the lone vote against restoring committee limits. He argued that population data shows the northern herd is dwindling and the committees are merely advisory bodies.
“That means the buck stops with the board,” he said. “The board is responsible for the devastation of the deer herd in the north.”
The only extensive public comment on the open meeting violation allegations came from Welter.
“There isn’t any excuse for having provided this material to only four of the board members when there was time to consult with anybody,” Welter said. “There is no excuse for that. That was underhanded.”
Prehn said the reconsideration vote invalidates Welter’s complaints. In interviews with The Associated Press on Friday, Hilgenberg said he never spoke to more than one board member at once during discussions on the reduction plan. Kazmierski said the plan was drafted the same as it has been for decades. Bruins called the allegations “a bunch of hooey.”