By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — With the exception of the Green Bay Packers, there isn’t anything more culturally deified in Wisconsin than the nine-day gun deer season.
For many Badger State families, the season is a secular religion, marked by a communion of blaze orange-wearing friends and family who take to the woods each November in search of the swift and elusive whitetail. The call of the hunt annually lures more than 10 percent of the state’s population to some of most remote terrain reaches of Wisconsin.
Given deer hunting’s sacred place in Wisconsin culture, perhaps it would come as little surprise that there appears to be no definitive accounting of the cost of the gun deer season to taxpayers.
Is there such a breakdown?
Wisconsin Reporter asked.
“There really isn’t,” said Joe Polasek, budget director of the state Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the hunt and the state’s overall deer management program. “There are so many different areas of departments and sub-elements of that.”
The closest the agency can get is looking at some basic budget lines, the 20,000-foot view as Polasek calls it.
DNR’s annual budget, at present, is $561.7 million, including a broad range of programs and initiatives from environmental regulations to parks management.
About $77 million is marked for DNR’s fish and wildlife operations, providing products and services for all things fishing and hunting.
Polasek said he could not break down how much of that funding is devoted to the nine-day gun deer season, because the budget goes to everything from fish hatcheries to waterfowl.
Scores of DNR employees work to administer the hunt, with about 150 people from the Bureau of Wildlife leading the deer management programs and another 145 wardens working law enforcement on the farms, fields and woods, Polasek said. Those employees do work on various wildlife programs year-round, although the gun deer season is the busiest.
Deer hunting is a fairly big revenue producer for DNR.
The bureau took in $11 million in resident deer licenses this year, and another $4.6 million in nonresident licenses. The agency generated another $1.3 million in patron licenses, all-inclusive hunting licenses, on a prorated basis. Add in the archery deer hunting season, and the agency is set to take in nearly $23 million in license revenue.
Polasek and an army of wildlife biologists and economists, not to mention hunters, would say not funding Wisconsin’s deer management program and the sport of hunting that serves it would be much more costly to business and taxpayers.
The most recent DNR analysis indicates the nine-day gun season and the much longer archery season generate a combined $1.4 billion in annual economic impact for Wisconsin.
“If you do have $1 billion of economic activity, think of the spin-off in sales tax and gasoline taxes and income that generates” for the state, Polasek said.
On the other side of that equation is the cost of not managing the state’s deer population.
Car and deer collisions topped 18,100 in 2011, 38 percent of those occurring in October and November, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. The National Transportation Safety Administration estimates that car and deer collisions cost approximately $1 billion per year.
Then there is the havoc a hungry deer population would unleash on Wisconsin crops.
“You would lose the ability to maintain a healthy deer population,” Polasek said.
There are, of course, the intangibles, like a long-standing Wisconsin tradition. And the reality that, by its sheer numbers, the deer-hunting lobby is extremely influential in Wisconsin politics.
Brandon Fischer, 30, of Antigo, has been hunting for more than half his life.
“It was passed down to me. My dad and uncles, we all hunt together,” he said.
This year has been the worst ever for seeing deer, Fischer said. Despite his bad luck, the hunter said the nine-day season is worth the tax dollars and the cost of his licenses, although he quickly added the hunt needs to be regulated better than it is.
Contact M.D. Kittle at [email protected].
— Edited by Therese Umerlik at [email protected]