For over 100 years hunters and anglers of Wisconsin were able to access some of the very best hunting and fishing in the state simply by walking directly across a set of railroad tracks. From De Soto Bay to the Wolf River, from the marshes of Buffalo County to the grasslands of Walworth and Racine Counties, hunters and anglers relied on these crossings to get to their favorite public hunting and fishing grounds.
All of this changed in 2006 when, citing the need for public safety, the legislature acted to withdraw the exemption from the trespassing law that allowed the public to cross railroads; despite a lack of instances of hunters or anglers being hurt or killed while crossing the tracks. Overnight, the simple act of walking to a favorite fishing spot as they had for generations, became illegal. It was one of the largest reductions in public access to hunting and fishing areas in the history of the state.
The effects of this law are most acutely felt along the Mississippi River, where the Wisconsin DNR has identified nearly 200 historic public access points to recreational opportunities that no longer exist due to this change. Anglers are trusted to dodge cars on State Highway 35, but cannot be trusted to keep an eye out for trains while crossing the BNSF railway. One of the crown jewels of Wisconsin hunting and fishing has been tarnished for the simple want of being able to walk 20 feet without fear of being cited for trespassing.
The effects of this law are not limited to the Mississippi alone. The Wisconsin Wildlife Federation has identified 121 state owned properties that are bisected by railroads. It is important to note that this number does not include either federal lands or county properties that are open to hunting and fishing.
Senator Kathy Bernier and Representative Gae Magnafici are currently circulating a proposal for co-sponsorship in the legislature that will reinstate the ability of hunters and anglers across the state to safely cross a railroad without being in violation of the law. Now is the time to let them know that you support this bill and that you would like them to as well.
Please contact your representative and senator before March 5th, 2021 and ask him or her to co-sponsor this legislation.