Ducks Unlimited volunteers shape Wisconsin legislative session

Ducks Unlimited's dedicated volunteer force was influential in affecting several pieces of legislation in 2015-16 that could have damaged Wisconsin wetlands and compromised the state's waterfowling heritage.

Volunteers, led by State Policy Chair Nels Swenson, worked to inform the general assembly on wetland-related issues.

"We as an organization continue to be well received by most lawmakers, and DU has been able to move the needle to the positive with bills that have a negative impact on Wisconsin's wetlands," Swenson said. "The reason DU is so successful is the DU team approach that includes partnerships among volunteers, staff, members and our key partners."

DU was successful on building stronger relationships with lawmakers and lessening the impacts of three major wetland-related legislative issues: high capacity well permitting, shoreline development and aquaculture practices.

Strong interests by high-capacity well operators led to legislation that would exempt these operators from traditional permitting procedures. This would effectively deregulate the act of pumping more than 100,000 gallons of water per day from the ground. Wetland systems are tightly linked to groundwater, so reductions in this subsurface resource has direct impacts on critical waterfowl habitat. Concerns over the legislation by DU and other conservation organizations created significant debate, leading to the passage of two separate versions, Senate Bill 239 and Assembly Bill 874. This required the legislation to return to committee to combine the bills, offering additional time to reshape or defeat the legislation to avoid or minimize wetland impacts.

Shoreline development legislation, Senate Bill 459 and Assembly Bill 600, would have deregulated the dredging of shoreline habitats on waterbodies throughout Wisconsin. As result of DU's efforts working with bill sponsors, the dredging provision was stripped out before final passage. Shoreline environments often contain wetland characteristics and provide great places for Wisconsin's 1.5 million sportsmen and women to hunt and fish.

The last controversial issue, concerning fish farming practices, came to a head just before spring adjournment. Senate Bill 493 and Assembly Bill 640 would have significantly deregulated the fish farming industry, allowing them to use wetlands for operations with limited restrictions. DU's volunteers and members made their voices heard, leading to the bill's failure in the Senate on the final day of session.

"The number of calls lawmakers received helped signal there was something truly troubling with allowing this bill to proceed as written," Swenson said. "DU definitely had a pivotal role stopping this bill from advancing in the senate, and I extend my thanks and appreciation to all who contacted their legislators."

DU proactively engaged legislators during this legislative session, beginning with a wetlands-focused informational hearing in February 2015, attended by lawmakers and others from the conservation community. DU also helped sponsor and participated in the Wisconsin Legislative Sportsmen's Caucus first Cast and Blast event at Yellowstone Lake State Park in September. At that event, DU presented decoys to caucus co-chairs for their leadership on conservation issues and the hunting heritage in Wisconsin.

Team DU looks forward to spending the coming months strengthening legislative relationships, building relationships where none previously existed and expanding conservation partnerships to better position the organization to shape natural resource policy discussions when the legislature kicks off the 2016-17 session. These efforts begin with an April 6 Legislative Fun Shoot at the Waunakee Gun Club in Madison.

Next time you speak with your senator or representative, ask them if they're members of the Wisconsin Legislative Sportsmen's Caucus. If they're not, encourage them to join. Also, invite them to your DU event and ask them to join DU.

April 2016