The Brillion News
MADISON - After receiving word that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources had officially closed Hunter Safety courses in Oneida County due to restrictions in Governor Evers’ Covid-19 advisory plan, Hunter Nation blasted the decision in a press release distributed on June 12.
A non-profit organization that aims to protect the rights of hunters in Wisconsin, Hunter Nation said that the DNR was barring an entire class of kids from experiencing the state’s long standing outdoor traditions.
The opposition to the DNR's decision was strong, and on Friday, June 26, the state agency did a 180-degree turn, as shown in this DNR press release:.
MADISON - In-person hunter and recreational vehicle education classes will resume July 13 under a set of guidelines and safety protocols released Friday by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' Recreational Safety and Outdoor Skills Section under Phase II of the Wisconsin State Government Bounce Back Plan.
The in-person hunter and recreational vehicle education classes resuming July 13 are for courses with 50 people or less. Based on a review of enrollment data for DNR hunter safety courses over the past three years, less than 2% of the more than 2,200 courses provided exceeded 50 attendees.
In March, the DNR temporarily suspended all in-person hunter education and recreational safety classes due to public health advisories relating to COVID-19. At the same time, the DNR also canceled, adjusted and postponed an array of other in-person public events, meetings, trainings and agency operations to protect public health.
The suspension reflected the dedication to safety by the DNR and the program; and, provided the time to establish classroom guidelines to keep students and instructors as safe as possible from COVID-19 exposures.
The COVID-19 public health steps go beyond providing the educational safety courses for hunting, boating and off-highway vehicles, and will remain part of the safety class environment as classes start in July. The safety protocols are for the protection of students and instructors, and the communities where they live. The DNR will continue to prioritize the safety of the public, volunteer instructors, and department staff when determining protocols for resuming in-person recreational safety classes.
"We wish we had a one-size-fits-all plan. That is not possible because each safety class - whether it is hunter education or about recreational vehicle use - is different by location and the instructor," said Lt. Warden Jon King, DNR Bureau of Law Enforcement administrator of the hunter education program. "However, the safety and the well-being of our students and our instructors remains priority Number One regardless of where the class takes place."
The DNR's Recreational Safety and Outdoor Section will work collaboratively with our volunteer instructors and partners to reopen our safety classes. The timeline is as follows:
Instructors may start to enroll classes into GoWild on Sunday, June 28.
Classes may start Monday, July 13.
SAFETY CLASS PARTICIPANTS CAN EXPECT THESE CHANGES:
Social distancing of 6 feet between participants
Maximum of 50 participants in any one class
Attendees strongly recommended to wear face covering
Sanitizing of class equipment
Availability and use of hand sanitizer
Outdoor class instruction where possible
Here is our original story:
“After hearing about this decision in Oneida County, we immediately jumped into action and have called on the DNR to reverse course and allow these classes to proceed," Hunter Nation President and CEO Luke Hilgemann said. "This is a baseless decision that threatens to jeopardize outdoor opportunities for thousands of kids and adults who want to carry on our hunting traditions here in Wisconsin. We are calling on Governor Evers’ and Secretary Cole to immediately allow all hunter education courses and field trainings to move forward as scheduled.”
The group first learned of the DNR’s decision to not recognize hunter safety course completion from a press release sent by the Oneida County Sheriff earlier this week.
“It is disappointing and concerning to hear that the DNR is not allowing the in-person instruction of hunter safety courses to resume until further notice," said State Representative Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma. " As much of rural Wisconsin has started to re-open responsibly, we expect the Governor and his agencies to assist, not hinder, these local decisions. I have full faith that our hunter safety instructors are capable of conducting their classes in compliance with any local re-opening guidelines that are in place."
The Oneida County Sheriff’s office has been teaching hunter safety in that area for many years but was told by the DNR that anyone who completes courses that had been scheduled later this month would not be recognized by the department due to Governor Evers’ Covid-19 restrictions.
The sheriff’s office was also informed that if they moved forward with the program that their instructors may also be decertified by the DNR.
As a result, students who signed up for the course were turned away. Oneida County instructors use a curriculum that is taught on a 40-acre parcel outdoors.
“Earlier this week, Governor Evers’ said he 'encouraged people to get outside and exercise their rights' in regards to protests that have taken place in Madison and Milwaukee,” said Tyler Ruhland, Hunter Nation’s Wisconsin State Director. “So, it’s ok for protesters to exercise their first amendment rights, but it’s not ok for kids to exercise their constitutionally protected right to hunt? This move by the Evers’ administration makes no sense and Hunter Nation calls on the Governor, Secretary and the Legislature to immediately re-open these vital courses for the future of hunting in Wisconsin.”
The group sent a letter to DNR Secretary Preston Cole asking him to certify all hunter education courses and keep field days on track. The group called it a "constitutionally protected right in the state of Wisconsin."
Hunter Nation said it would work with any hunting or outdoor group and local sporting clubs and gun ranges to make sure these courses are safe, readily available, and fully open for the public.