Flurry of outdoors-related bills being considered in Legislature

With just a couple months left in the Wisconsin legislative session, lawmakers are considering several outdoors-related bills, including allowing airguns for deer hunting.

Paul A. Smith
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
A deer hunter carries a crossbow as he walks to a stand in Marquette County.

The final stretch of each Wisconsin Legislature tends to feature a flurry of action.

The 2023-24 legislative session is proving to be no exception.

With about two and a half months remaining until the final floor session, the Assembly and Senate are considering about a dozen bills of interest to the conservation community.

Here are summaries of a handful:

As a follow-up to hikes in non-resident hunting and fishing license fees included in the 2023-25 state budget, legislators are seeking to increase the price of the non-resident archer and non-resident crossbow licenses. Senate Bill 780 and its Assembly companion AB 799 would raise those fees to $200 from the current $160.

At a hearing last week sponsors said it was an "oversight" that the increases weren't included in the budget bill earlier this year.

Though they've opted to raise non-resident license fees, legislators so far haven't shown an appetite for increasing resident hunting and fishing license fees, most of which haven't been raised since 2005.

A proposal to allow airguns for big game hunting in Wisconsin is a step closer to passage. Senate Bill 586 (AB 633) received lots of support at hearings and no opposition.

Current state rules allow airguns for hunting small game such as gray squirrels and cottontail rabbits. The major impact of the bill would be to expand the use of airguns to include hunting for deer, black bear and elk. Twenty-eight other states, including Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, allow the technology for big game hunting, according to the Airgun Sporting Association, a trade group promoting expanded use of airguns across the nation.

A bill backed by some hunting groups, including the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, to expand dog training in spring in the northern portion of the state received a hearing Dec. 6. Senate Bill 545 (AB 512) would repeal a current Department of Natural Resources administrative code that generally prohibits a person from hunting or pursuing any free-roaming wild animal with the aid of a dog from May 1 to June 30 in approximately the northern half of the state. The proposal would also repeal restrictions on dog training and dog trialing on any free roaming wild animal in that area and during that period.

The rule, which was put in place in part to protect ground-nesting birds during breeding season, is opposed by some environmental and conservation groups.

Though proposals have been offered on a controversial outdoors topic – wake-enhanced boating – none has received a hearing.

Senate Bill 680 (AB 586) would prevent wake sports on lakes of 50 acres or less and, on larger water bodies, prevent wake-enhanced boat operation within 200 feet from shore. In addition the measure would nullify more restrictive local ordinances on wake surfing. Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma), author of the bill, said at a November listening session changes in the proposal were likely. However as of last week the bill hadn't had a hearing and hadn't been modified.

A more restrictive wake surfing measure was authored by Sen. Andres Jacques (R-De Pere) and circulated for signatures in early December. As written, LRB 5069/1 would prohibit the operation of a "motorboat causing a hazardous wake" on a lake smaller than 1,500 acres.

In addition, on lakes larger than 1,500 acres it would require wake-enhanced boats to operate at least 700 feet from the shoreline and at least 700 feet from any boat, swimmer, or other water user.

As of last week the proposal had not been assigned a bill number.

The Legislature's final general floor periods for the 2023-24 session are scheduled Jan. 16 to 25, Feb. 13 to 22 and March 12 to 14.

Bills are set to be sent to Gov. Tony Evers as late as April 25. Then the Legislature has a veto review floor period scheduled May 14 and 15.

Visit the Wisconsin Legislature website for more information at docs.legis.wisconsin.gov.