Wisconsinites transform the landscape for nine days each fall for what the Department of Natural Resources calls the “traditional” gun-deer hunting season.
This is the time when blaze-orange (and since 2016 also blaze-pink) outfits dot the fields, forests, taverns and gas stations in rural areas from Superior to Shopiere.
The state has other, limited deer-hunting seasons, but the gun-deer season is the big one.
Deer should be plentiful this year, the DNR says, although the agency offers no predictions about the hunt.
Here are five things to know about the upcoming season. Note the first one might be of interest to Rock County residents who are not hunters.
1. In an effort to reduce the deer herd in areas surrounding Janesville and Beloit, a special zone has been created: Inside the so-called “metro sub-unit” zone, the DNR is allowing the harvest of more antlerless deer than in most other areas.
The hope is that by reducing the herd, the number of car-deer crashes will be reduced, as will the number of deer-chewed shrubs in people’s yards, said Jason Cotter, senior wildlife biologist for the DNR.
Cotter said the special zone was created through the DNR’s Rock County Deer Advisory Council, whose members are local residents.
Note that while the nine-day season ends Sunday, Nov. 25, deer hunting in this special sub-unit lasts through Wednesday, Dec. 5.
2. Mentored hunters may now carry their own weapons: In the past, only one weapon was allowed between a mentor and mentee. Starting last year, both have been allowed to carry.
Hunters must be mentored if they have not taken a hunter-safety course or are under age 11, whether or not they have taken the course, said Margaret Janovetz of the Janesville DNR Service Center.
The mentoring program was enacted to encourage people to give hunting a try without having to go through the course, Janovetz said.
3. Have you heard about the new rule for moving your harvested deer across county lines? Forget about it: Gov. Scott Walker signed the emergency rule in September. It was supposed to slow the spread of chronic wasting disease.
But on the day it was to go into effect, it was rescinded by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. Sen. Steve Nass, R-La Grange, who is the committee’s co-chairman, worked to quash it.
Nass said the rule would confuse hunters so soon before deer hunting season, according to news reports.
Walker has said he would work with legislators to re-introduce the rule, but Janovetz said that for this season, the old rule remains in effect, so hunters may transport their deer out of chronic wasting disease zones and butcher them at home, if they wish.
4. The DNR did away with carcass tags in 2016, having hunters instead register their kills by phone or on the internet: New this year is a name. The document that once was a tag is now called a deer harvest authorization.
The number on the authorization document must be given when registering the deer, Janovetz said.
Hunters who don’t carry the paper document must have the number and must have a DNR-authenticated Wisconsin driver’s license with a DNR-approved digital file displayed on an electronic device or a DNR “Go Wild” card.
5. Questions? You might have them, considering that the rules are printed in tiny type in a 47-page booklet.
“It gets confusing once in a while,” Janovetz acknowledged.
For answers, call the DNR hotline, 888-936-7463, ext. 4, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily except for Thanksgiving Day, when it closes an hour earlier.
The center is closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
As many Wisconsin farmers cling to their livelihood, hoping for some relief soon from crushing low commodity prices, some are asking what the state agriculture department will be like after Tony Evers becomes the next governor.
Evers didn’t get into much detail on farm issues during his campaign, farmers say, but they’re keenly interested in his views and whom he appoints as secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
The department’s work touches nearly everyone in the state, not just farmers, in areas such as state-inspected meat packing plants, enforcement of weights and measures standards, and accuracy of gasoline pumps.
Evers has pledged to strengthen UW Extension’s support and market assistance for farmers caught in brutal commodities markets.
“Wisconsin farmers are in a crisis as prices within the farm economy have been below production costs for more than three years. Farm families are enduring bankruptcy, health issues and even suicides as rural Wisconsin loses more than one dairy farm every day,” Evers said during his campaign.
“Farm policies have encouraged overproduction, which has resulted in financial stress to dairy farm families, causing many of them to have to exit the industry.”
The current agriculture secretary is Sheila Harsdorf, a Republican appointed by Walker in November 2017. She is the first woman to hold that state office and served in the state Legislature for more than 25 years, most recently as a senator for the 10th Senate District in northwestern Wisconsin.
A spokesman for Harsdorf did not return a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel call asking about her plans and requesting an interview. Harsdorf could be asked to stay on as secretary under Evers.
“But political appointees are part of the spoils of victory,” said Mark Kastel, co-founder of The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin farm policy group that closely follows issues in state government.
“Historically, the secretary of DATCP has been quite subservient to the agribusiness interests in this state,” Kastel said.
Evers has spent his career in education. He’s been state superintendent of public instruction since 2009 and held administrative and teaching roles before that.
“The governor-elect is not known for a background in agriculture, so he’s going to have to tap smart people in the selection of the secretary and for some macro policy shifts,” Kastel said.
“It should be a major shakeup. It would be great to see the power shift back toward the rank-and-file working people and farmers in rural communities,” he added.
A spokesman for Evers did not return a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel call last week asking about his views on the agriculture department, one of the state’s largest agencies.
“I would like to see the same philosophical changes I was hoping for when Jim Doyle was elected governor … and we didn’t get. And that is to create DATCP leadership, policy and funding that would support family farms,” Kastel said.
Dave Daniels, a Racine County dairy farmer and board member of Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, the state’s largest farm group, takes a more conservative view of Evers, and says there’s room for farms of all sizes in the state.
“I would like to see what he proposes, and hopefully we can work with him,” Daniels said.
Manitowoc County farmer Michael Slattery, who in 2016 made an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat, said he has met with Mandela Barnes, the next lieutenant governor, about farm policies.
“He wasn’t there to sell me anything. He was there to listen,” Slattery said.
Slattery said he would like to see the agriculture department and state attorney general’s office focus on policies and regulations helpful for midsize farms rather than mega-size operations that have drawn criticisms for their impact on the environment.
Otherwise, “It’s the death knell for local communities,” Slattery said, as midsize farms are squeezed out of the marketplace.
Slattery, who spent much of his career in international banking, is now a grain farmer and an economist for Wisconsin Farmers Union.
“To retain vibrant and viable rural communities, you need these average-size farms,” he said.
Small dairy farms have been disappearing from the rural landscape for decades, but the problem has been compounded by a sharp decline in farm-milk prices that’s now in its fourth year and has spread across the country.
Farm cooperatives have urged members to think twice about adding more cows to their operations when the marketplace is awash in milk. Some have offered incentives for members to quit farming altogether and some have even warned about farmer suicides.
Federal court data showed the Western District of Wisconsin had the highest number of Chapter 12 farm bankruptcies in the nation in 2017, and that’s only a glimpse into the problem because Chapter 12 is a relatively rare tool used in bankruptcies.
Farm milk pricing is a federal, not state, policy matter. But state officials ought to be pushing the federal government for answers and helping farmers in the marketplace, said Pete Hardin, publisher of The Milkweed, a dairy industry publication based in Brooklyn, Wisconsin.
“The status quo is leading us to ruin. And it’s not just farmers bleeding red ink. There are a lot of cheese plants bleeding it, too,” Hardin said.
Hardin said he would like to see the agriculture department incubate a stockholder-owned corporation, with farmers and cheese plant owners as the principal investors, that would sell Wisconsin cheese directly to consumers online.
“All of the money would stay at home, returning more to the farmer and the plants and creating jobs in the state filling orders,” Hardin said.
About 90 percent of Wisconsin’s milk goes into making cheese.
“We have to wake up. We are the giant in the cheese business, and yet we’ve been taking it lying down,” Hardin said.
He would also like to see local governments regain the authority to regulate the expansion of dairy farms that have thousands of cows.
“When the state took away discretionary powers of the counties and townships, I think it proved to be a pretty sad event for many rural Wisconsin communities,” Hardin said.
Despite his hope for change, he has not been opposed to Harsdorf’s leadership.
“This may sound terrible for an old liberal Democrat, but one of the things I would miss about the Walker administration is Secretary Harsdorf not getting the chance to show what she can do at the agriculture department,” Hardin said.
Jim Holte, president of Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, said he expects the agriculture department to be nonpartisan.
“I don’t expect any abrupt changes or significant obstacles in working with the new administration,” Holte said.
He would favor low-interest loans to beginning farmers, something Evers suggested during his campaign.
“As difficult as the financial situation is in agriculture now, these kinds of programs rise up as having a little more value,” Holte said.
Besides looking out for the interests of farmers, the agriculture department is supposed to be the state’s consumer protection watchdog.
The agency fields thousands of consumer complaints in a wide range of subjects, from cellphone providers and landlords to business scams and telemarketers.
It refers some cases to the state attorney general’s office for prosecution.
“But overwhelmingly the problem has been that the public resources to enforce the laws have been cut back so dramatically, it’s not sufficient for the task,” said Jeff Myer, director of advocacy for Legal Action, a nonprofit legal aid group in Milwaukee.
“I don’t think DATCP has any enforcement personnel. They are an information-gathering repository. But that’s all,” Myer said.
The attorney general’s office doesn’t have enough resources dedicated to consumer protection either, Myer said.
“It’s not anywhere close to what’s needed for the number of scams that go on in this state,” he said.
The Rock County Board on Tuesday adopted a 2019 county budget that increases overall expenditures by 8.4 percent and drops the tax rate amid rising property values countywide.
As suggested in the preliminary budget, the county’s tax levy will climb by 1.1 percent, or $720,584, and the tax rate will fall by 4.9 percent next year.
The tax levy increase and tax rate decrease come as the county’s equalized value grew by 6.3 percent this year.
The board unanimously approved the budget and increased the administrator’s 2019 expenditures by $45,831 to keep the parks community coordinator position full time. That pushed the county’s overall expenditures to $188.59 million—up $14.7 million from this year.
Board members voted 19-5 to boost the county’s contribution to the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, a nonprofit volunteer group for seniors, by $20,000 by shifting money from the $100,000 contingency fund. That fund will drop to $80,000 next year.
Notable in the 2019 budget is the rise in spending. Rock County Administrator Josh Smith told The Gazette in October a $5.2 million security overhaul at the Rock County Courthouse is largely fueling the increase. That project will last most of 2019 and significantly reconfigure the building’s west-side entrance.
Other funding jumps include overtime costs for the jail and law enforcement services—which are set at $968,231 next year, up by about $412,000 from this year—and an additional $291,000 for new legal support specialists in the district attorney’s office.
Overtime costs for law enforcement and correctional officers have been underbudgeted for years, Smith has said. The 2019 budget anticipates those costs upfront instead of supplementing the difference from other parts of the budget.
Evidence-based decision making—a process that aims to improve the criminal justice system—will see a $322,416 funding bump in 2019 for what Smith called a “diversion program for low-risk offenders.” It’s one of several criminal justice reform initiatives coming out of the Evidence-Based Decision Making Ad Hoc Committee.
“The importance of these programs increases as the jail population approaches capacity, which occurred at several points in 2018 and is expected to continue in 2019,” Smith wrote in his preliminary budget summary.
Next year’s budget sees annual health insurance deductibles increase for Rock County employees across the board—and several board members questioned those costs during Tuesday’s meeting.
Annual deductibles will jump by $100 to $750 for individuals and by $300 to $2,250 for families. Emergency room copays also will rise, and employees will be responsible for all out-of-pocket costs until their deductibles are met.
Smith told The Gazette on Nov. 8 the health care increases are a temporary stop-gap measure to shore up the county’s shrinking health insurance trust account.
The county board will discuss a new health care insurance plan early next year, he said.
Smith told the board Tuesday the county would have to pay about $897,000 if it didn’t increase health insurance deductibles and copays.
Richard H. Brown Jr.
Vera M. Gillett
Munir W. Hanna
Violet “Vickie” Jones
Helen J. Larson
Raymond L. Mathewson
Larry A. Ulrich Sr.