The Sporting Heritage Bill (Wisconsin Act 168) will allow the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to lengthen hunting and trapping seasons at Wisconsin State Parks into May, a time when birders take to woods and prairies in their highest numbers. Though I usually purchase an annual state park sticker, I spend the overwhelming majority of my birding time at Pheasant Branch Conservancy, which is City of Middleton and Dane County property. Other natural areas I seasonally visit are either owned by The Nature Conservancy or City of Madison Parks. About the only state park I spend any measurable time at is Governor Nelson, located on the north side of Lake Mendota. But in looking at a map of the park where hunting isn't permitted, it's unlikely to have any impact on me should I go birding there. While I'm not at all anti-hunting, I do share some of the concerns raised by the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology in their recent letter to Wisconsin Natural Resources Board members:
"We understand that part of the reasoning behind the proposed hunting period is to avoid periods of high parks uses during summer and during the fall color season, to enhance the safety of the large number of people who visit the parks during those times. The large number of people birding in state parks during spring migration, along with others enjoying the colorful spring flower season, also deserve similar consideration for their safety."I know many birders enjoy getting off the beaten path to find quiet areas away from peak traffic zones at state parks so they can better appreciate the sights and songs of migratory birds, perhaps even photograph them. In the future, this could be a potentially dangerous endeavor. Now that hunting will extend well into May, those birders who enjoy visiting Wisconsin's beautiful state parks during this time of year may be well advised to exercise a reasonable degree of caution and perhaps even wear blaze orange. It does seem a little absurd that people participating in a passive nature activity may have to change their habits and outdoor attire for their own personal safety. I know of at least one birder who has already made a "No Blaze Orange" pledge.
I have never been one to spend a lot of my birding time at our state parks, and now there's even less incentive for me to do so, but I realize the new hunting law will affect many Wisconsin birders that do. Naturally, there are many birders who are also hunters and this shouldn't be necessarily thought of as a polarizing "us versus them" issue. Perhaps this is an opportunity for birders to reflect on the comparatively small political clout they posses compared to hunters.
Image Credit: USFWS