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Mississippi River rule changes spur debate at Conservation Congress spring hearings
Conservation Congress ONLINE
IT WAS AN ALL-STAR conservation cast on-hand to facilitate the Conservation Congress 2019 Spring Hearing at the Viroqua High School on April 8. Dan Gotz, DNR Wildlife Biologist for Crawford and Vernon Counties; Kirk Olson, DNR Fisheries Biologist for Vernon County; Shawna Stringham, DNR Conservation Warden Mississippi River Team; Bill Greendeer, Ho-Chunk Nation member and Conservation Congress delegate; and Dave West, Conservation Congress delegate, were on hand to facilitate discussion and answer questions.

SOUTHWEST WISCONSIN - The 2019 Conservation Congress Spring Hearings, which took place in all 72 of Wisconsin’s counties earlier in April, drew a total of 3,402 people in-person at the meetings, and an additional 7,310 participants online. This means that overall, with the online option, participation in providing input on the 88 questions before the state’s conservation community increased by 36 percent. In-person attendance, however, was down overall by 39 percent.

Perhaps the most hotly contested issues in the counties locally that border the Mississippi River were proposed changes in fishing regulations on the big muddy. They were some of the most discussed topics at the Vernon County hearing held at the Viroqua High School.

The proposed changes were motivated by changes in the reproductive success of certain populations of game fish, and attempting to line up Wisconsin’s regulations with those of neighboring Minnesota and Iowa. All of the proposed changes would impact Pools Three through Nine along the Mississippi River, covering an area from Hastings, Minnesota to Harper’s Ferry, Iowa.

The resolution calling to reduce shovelnose sturgeon daily bag from 10 to three in Pools 3-9 passed in 71 of the state’s 72 counties, including Grant, Crawford and Vernon, which all border the river. 

In the notes accompanying the posted results on the DNR’s website, the following clarification was put forth:

“There is an error in the background of question 24. Commercial harvest of shovelnose sturgeon IS al-lowed in Wisconsin (not Minnesota). The majority of this harvest occurs on the Iowa/Wisconsin boundary waters.”

One participant at the Viroqua meeting observed, “since when has ‘worldwide’ been considered in Wisconsin? This proposed change would attempt to solve a future problem that might never come to be.”

While the proposed change passed overwhelmingly with margins similar to the statewide results in most counties locally, in Vernon County the vote was 10 to 13.

Two other resolutions passed in 69 and 68 of the state’s 72 counties. The first called for a reduction of the walleye/sauger daily bag limit from six to four (combined), a 15-inch minimum for walleye, no minimum for sauger, but only one walleye or sauger over 20 inches per day, to be implemented concurrently with Minnesota. 

The second called for a daily bag limit of walleye/sauger/saugeye in pools 9-12 of the Mississippi River of six combined, 15-inch minimum for walleye, and all walleye between 20-27 inches must be immediately released. No more than one walleye above 27-inches per day could be kept, with no minimum size limit for sauger.

According to the materials accompanying the questions, “Fisheries data indicate that walleye and sauger in the Mississippi River system are faster growing and shorter lived than in many other locations in both Minnesota and Wisconsin… In pools 5, 5A, 6, 7, 8, and upper 9, fisheries data suggest a decrease in sauger abundance. From 1983 through 2017, the percentage of sauger in walleye and sauger surveys has gradually decreased from 60 percent to 40 percent, and reproduction has been below average for nine of the last 10 years.”

The first proposed change in the walleye/sauger bag limits passed overwhelmingly in 69 counties, but lost quite resoundingly in Crawford and Vernon counties, passing by a margin of 12-yes to 9-no in Grant County. 

The second passed in 68 counties, but lost by one vote in Crawford County, passed by one vote in Vernon County, and was a tie-vote in Grant County.

Another proposal sought to reduce the bluegill, crappie and yellow perch bag limits from 25 to 15 of each species respectively in pools 3-9 concurrently with Minnesota.

Regarding the proposed changed bag limits for sunfish, crappie and yellow perch, the materials stated, “Populations of these species in the upper pools of the Mississippi River are currently in relatively good shape. However, incremental loss of aquatic habitat on the Upper Mississippi River from the effects of sedimentation is a serious cause for concern. Compounding this loss of habitat is the fact that these species become more concentrated during winter months which makes them vulnerable to high harvest rates, especially the larger, older individuals.”

The change in the sunfish, crappie and yellow perch bag limits also passed statewide by a wide margin in 69 of 72 counties. This proposed change lost in Crawford County 11-yes to 14-no; and passed by one vote in Vernon County, and 15-yes, 7-no in Grant County.


Deer hunting was, as always, a hot topic at the Spring Hearings, and the subject of four fairly significant questions.

In recent years, the state had experimented with online registration during deer season and moved away from the old requirement for tagging deer. The question on the survey asked whether participants supported restoring deer tagging requirements in state statute.

The resolution passed in 71 of the state’s 72 counties. Support was strong in Vernon, Richland, Monroe and Grant counties, but the matter passed only 12-yes to 9-no in Crawford County.

Two other hot topics involved the ‘baby hunter’ change that was enacted in recent years allowing youth under 10 years of age to hold a hunting license, and another measure allowing mentors in a learn-to-hunt situation to carry their own firearm.

Overturning the ‘baby hunter’ provision secured a landslide of support statewide, and the results were mirrored in Crawford, Richland, Vernon and Monroe Counties. Grant County, however, narrowly passed the measure 12-yes, 10-no.

Regarding learn-to-hunt mentors being able to carry firearms, participants statewide approved the measure resoundingly. Crawford, Grant, Richland and Vernon all showed results consistent with the statewide results, with Monroe County exceeding statewide results with a unanimous 27-yes, 0-no vote.

A measure that would require pheasant, grouse and quail hunters to wear blaze orange or pink passed in 60 of the state’s 72 counties. The measure was supported in all four counties in the Kickapoo River Watershed, as well as in Grant County.

A proposal to eliminate minimum barrel length restrictions for handguns that are used for hunting passed in 55 of the state’s 72 counties. The proposal passed with moderate success in Crawford, Monroe and Grant counties, but was only narrowly passed in Vernon, and lost in Richland County by a 6-yes, 20-no vote.

Resolutions calling for bans on lead fishing tackle and ammunition failed statewide, passing only in 30 and 10 respectively of the state’s 72 counties.

Controlling CWD

Perhaps the most eye-popping proposal on the survey proposed conducting a ‘Pilot CWD Payment-for-Positive’ (P4P) program in 2019.

The materials accompanying the question stated that “Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is causing serious damage to Wisconsin’s deer herd and deer hunting heritage. 2018 surveillance detected a record 965 CWD-positive deer, of which 99 percent were within the southern farmland deer management zone. The Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies has identified the best management practice to control spread of CWD as targeting cohorts of deer most likey to have CWD and hotspots through hunting. The goal of the P4P program would be to increase the disease control effectiveness of Wisconsin’s deer hunting seasons. P4P would pay both landowners and their hunters a significant financial reward for each CWD-positive deer they harvest, and a smaller reward would go to cooperating CWD sampling businesses to encourage more sampling sites. Funding of the program would need to be approved in the 2019-21 state budget. Proposed rates of payment span a range from $750 per deer to $1,250 per deer.”

The resolution passed in only 39 counties statewide. It passed by three votes in Crawford County; 11 votes in Richland County; nine votes in Vernon County; and two votes in Grant County. The proposal lost in Monroe County by one vote.

Trout fishing

All seven proposals on the survey regarding trout fishing passed statewide in between 72 to 54 counties. Several of the proposals, which passed most broadly, proposed to regulate bag limits of specific bodies of water. All these proposals passed in a minimum of 68 of the state’s 72 counties.

A proposal to increase the Wisconsin Inland Trout Stamp fee from $10 to $15 had a little harder time passing, with 64 of the state’s 72 counties passing the proposal. Support was strong in all Kickapoo River Watershed counties, as well as Grant County.


A proposal to increase the setback from fields to streams to 30 feet won in a landslide statewide in all 72 counties. It passed handsomely in all four counties in the Kickapoo River Watershed, and narrowly in Grant County by a vote of 13-yes, 10-no.

A proposal which called for restoring public funding for public lands passed in 71 of the state’s 72 counties, also by a landslide. Statewide support was mirrored strongly locally.

A proposal calling for creation of a statewide pilot program for temporary shooting ranges for scholastic shooting teams passed in 71 counties. Support was strong statewide and in all counties locally.

In the materials accompanying the survey, it read “Scholastic shooting teams are growing in popularity in the U.S. and Wisconsin. In some areas of the state, there are no clay target shooting ranges located within a reasonable distance to be practical for schools to form shooting teams. The process to site and get necessary permits for a new shooting range is complicated and can take several years to complete. In areas with these problems, the option of a temporary shooting range may allow school teams to be established until the permanent range approval process is complete.”


Each year the Conservation Congress accepts written resolutions from the public, in each county throughout the state regarding natural resource issues of statewide concern. These resolutions are introduced by the public in attendance. 

In Crawford County an ‘Extend-a-Buck’ resolution was presented, and passed 14-yes, 4-no.

In Grant County, two resolutions were introduced, and both passed overwhelmingly. One resolution called to split the state for the start of spring turkey season; and the other advocated for a change in opening daytime for muskrat season statewide to 6 a.m.

In Monroe County a ‘Responsible Mining for Clean Water’ resolution was introduced, and passed 22-yes, 2-no.

In Richland County, three resolutions were introduced, two of which passed, with one losing narrowly. The resolutions that passed called for restoration of Citizen Rights Regarding Cell Tower Hazards and Placement; and ‘Responsible Mining for Clean Water,’ as was proposed and passed in Monroe County.

The resolution that lost in Richland County 15-yes, 16-no, called for protection of Wisconsin wildlife from indiscriminate, open-season hunting. The same resolution was introduced in Vernon County, and also lost, 5-yes, 8-no.

In addition, four other resolutions were introduced in Vernon County, all of which passed. Those resolutions called for ‘Support for and Passage of Federal Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act’; ‘Citizens Rights Regarding Cell Tower Hazards and Placement’; ‘Responsible Mining for Clean Water’ as was proposed and passed in Monroe and Richland counties; and ‘Oppose the Back Forty Proposed Metallic Sulfide Mine.’