As a statewide organization that advocates for continued access to our public lands and waters, the Wisconsin Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is disappointed with the loss of access due to the closure of 40 Wisconsin State Parks and Forests beginning on April 10, 2020. We are, however, grateful to the Governor for continuing to allow turkey hunters to access the properties that were previously open for hunting for the spring turkey seasons. Hunting, especially turkey hunting, is the definition of “social distancing” for many across Wisconsin.
While the overnight loss of access to these 40 properties came as quite a shock to many people, this loss is temporary. The people of Wisconsin have been less fortunate in the past and with much less fanfare.
- In 2006, a law was passed making it illegal for people to cross railroad tracks outside of designated crossings, cutting off access to public properties overnight. The citizens of Wisconsin lost access to thousands of acres of their land overnight. Wisconsin BHA, along with conservation groups across the state are dedicated to overturning this law.
- In 2013 Wisconsin’s legislature ordered the DNR to sell 10,000 acres of public land. While the current closure of the parks are temporary, the access to those properties has been lost forever.
- The future of the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund is once again in question. During the next budget cycle, the legislature will have to decide whether it will be reauthorized. This program is the main funding mechanism for both acquiring and maintaining our public properties across the state. The loss of this program would be catastrophic to the future of public lands in Wisconsin.
- Over 1,000 acres of property along the Chippewa River corridor in Buffalo and Dunn Counties are currently being offered for sale to the State by the Xcel Energy company. These properties are adjacent to land that is currently owned by the State and would be open to the public for hunting, fishing, and trapping. This sale has been held up by the Joint Finance Committee for almost two years.
Something that should not be overlooked in this situation is that the Governor's directive specifically cited litter and vandalism as reasons to close our State Parks. Wisconsin BHA wants to remind everyone that these lands belong to all of us and we encourage anyone visiting public properties to take a bag with them on any excursion to collect litter to dispose of properly. We should all do our part to keep these properties clean, not just for ourselves, but for the next person that passes that way.
While BHA is saddened about the loss of access to some of our public lands due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we understand that this is only a temporary impediment in the ongoing battle for the future of these cherished lands. We hope that everyone stung by this loss of access will remember this feeling when issues that affect our ability to access our public lands and waters arise in the future.