Conservative group sues DNR over hunter safety course policies for COVID-19
The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty filed a lawsuit in Marathon County on Wednesday against the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ hunter education policies in the wake of COVID-19 restrictions.
brought by conservative group WILL on behalf of the hunting advocacy group Hunter Nation, accuses the DNR of illegally canceling in-person hunter education courses based on Governor Tony Evers’ now-overturned Safer at Home order. Citing right-to-hunt state laws and rulemaking procedures, the lawsuit says the DNR has made it impossible for people under 18 to secure hunter safety permits, and difficult at best for individuals over 18.
The lawsuit comes in the wake of the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office last week canceling their in-person hunter safety course after saying the DNR told them they will not recognize the course or provide DNR hunter safety certificates to participants upon completion. In an email from the DNR to the OCSO dated June 12 included in the lawsuit, the DNR says safety classes have been suspended until further notice, and that they are not allowing alternative ways of delivering hunter safety at this time—meaning that a virtual class would still require in-person class time in order to obtain a certificate.
“We haven’t been given any ‘official’ direction or information as to when they will resume,” DNR’s Kate Juza said in the email, “But from recent meetings, it sounds like they’ll be waiting for a two week decrease in positive cases before going there.”
The DNR temporarily suspended hunter safety courses in March, and spokesperson Sarah Hoye says they are waiting on guidance for in-person instruction that is currently being developed by the Department of Public Instruction and the Department of Health Services.
"We hope to be able to resume in-person classes as soon as possible and the Department will be ready to assist our hunter safety instructors to make that happen," Hoye said, who declined to comment specifically on the lawsuit.
WILL deputy counsel Lucas Vebber says they believe both the adoption of the policy alleged by the lawsuit--and the policy itself--conflicts with state law protecting hunting rights in Wisconsin.
“This lawsuit is simply about requiring DNR to follow the law and to act on their statutory duty to hold these in-person hunter education classes throughout Wisconsin,” Vebber noted.
On the DNR’s
website for hunter safety course enrollment, the DNR has posted the notice that “all DNR sponsored in-person recreational safety classes and R3 events are canceled for the duration of the public health emergency,” adding that they are monitoring the fluid situation closely.
For most people born after Jan. 1, 1973,
the completion of a hunter education course resulting in a DNR-issued certificate in order to obtain a hunting license in Wisconsin. An adult online course for individuals over 18 is provided through the DNR, but is not recommended for individuals without prior hunting experience.
When asked about the current status of hunter safety courses in Marathon County, Sheriff Scott Parks—whose department administers hunter safety courses in the county—said they have been in discussions with the DNR as recently as Tuesday about developing a procedure for conducting safety classes this year. The DNR has not yet responded to a request for clarification regarding the status of their certifications.