Wisconsin dove season "on again"

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Season takes wing again.

Dove hunters win this battle in long struggle.

Jan. 20, 2002

Bob Riepenhoff, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

It looks as if Wisconsin's controversial, on-again-off-again dove hunt is on again.

You may recall that the state's first dove hunting season was all set to open last Sept. 2. But, at the eleventh hour, just days before the scheduled opener, Dane County Circuit Judge Daniel Moeser brought the hunt to a sudden halt.

At that time, Moeser granted the request of a New London-based group called Wisconsin Citizens Concerned for Cranes and Doves to issue an injunction stopping the hunt until its lawsuit against the state Department of Natural Resources could be heard.

But on Monday, Moeser dismissed the case, ruling that the citizens group lacked legal standing to challenge the DNR's authority to establish the dove hunting season.

"Barring any other legal action or litigation, the mourning dove season will open on Sept. 1 of this year," Keith Warnke, upland wildlife ecologist with the DNR in Madison, told me.

So far, there is no official word on whether Wisconsin Citizens Concerned for Cranes and Doves will appeal.

"It's a little early to make a decision on an appeal without seeing the judge's decision," John Weineke, the group's president, said in a telephone interview. "I would think we would decide something within two or three weeks."

Meanwhile, Warnke said this: "We're pleased that the judge has made his decision. It's significance is that the process works and this is part of the process."

Last September, when Moeser blocked the hunt, there were plenty of hunters with doubts about that process.

Focal point of hunters
To understand the depth of the disappointment, consider the events that led up to the spring of 2000, when the mourning dove became the symbolic center of the fight for hunter's rights.

In 1997, Jim Weix, Rob Kieckhefer and a small group of others interested in establishing a dove season formed a group called Wisconsin Dove Hunters.

In terms of participation, the dove hunt was never expected to be huge. The DNR estimated that about 30,000 people would have hunted doves in Wisconsin last year, had the season gone through. That would rank it between woodcock hunting, with 24,000 participants, and cottontail rabbit hunting, with 60,500 participants, and far below deer hunting, with close to 700,000 participants.

"It's a new hunt that could start a new tradition," Warnke said.

Thirty-nine other states already have mourning dove hunts, and wildlife experts say that hunting them here will have no significant impact on Wisconsin's dove population.

Still, Wisconsin Dove Hunters' leaders knew that the group needed strong support from the sporting community, in the form of an overwhelming vote at the spring conservation hearings, to get a dove hunt. What they didn't know was the support would be unwittingly galvanized by an animal rights advocate named Patricia Randolph.

Spring conservation hearings, which are open to the public, are held by the DNR and the Wisconsin Conservation Congress each year in all 72 counties. Traditionally, participants vote on proposed changes in rules that affect hunting and fishing, and elect delegates to the Conservation Congress.

In 1999, Randolph and a group of animal rights advocates showed up at Dane County hearing with a different agenda: They wanted to end hunting.

Rallying point
Unaware of what was happening, many hunters and anglers left the long meeting, while the animal rights contingent remained. As a result, Randolph became the first vocal anti-hunter elected as delegate to the Conservation Congress.

Many saw Randolph's election as a wake-up call for the sporting community.

As the 2000 spring hearings approached, the mourning dove hunt became a rallying point for hunters and anglers, as well as animal rights activists. Both sides urged people to attend the hearings and make their voices heard.

The polarized clash culminated in record attendance at the hearings and a 21,067-to-6,036 vote in favor of the dove hunt, a landslide victory that many viewed as a mandate.

For a while, there was a mood of celebration among the sporting community, but that was cut short by Moeser's injunction.

Although it's too early to say for sure, it now appears that things have turned around and the dove hunt may be back on track.

Let's hope for a better-late-than-never scenario.

Call Bob Riepenhoff at (414) 224-2313 or e-mail him at briepenh@onwis.com.
 


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