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Does Wisconsin Have a Communist Deer Hunting System?

Written By: Travis Buhler  |  Posted: Thursday, June 28th, 2012

As the recall neared its end, there were several last minute attempts to vilify the Republican candidates.  The most memorable in my mind was the accusation that Scott Walker's appointed "Deer Czar", Dr. James Kroll, would take away all public hunting lands and privatize deer management.

                Kroll, while working for the Forestry Resources Institute of Texas, had said, "Game management is the last bastion of communism."  Kroll also managed his own game farm.

                Democrats connected the dots.  Senator Kathleen Vinehout (Alma) issued a press release;

                "Dr. Kroll… is a long-time proponent of private deer management…  Kroll owns a deer ranch where he says, 'We manage habitat. We control the population and manage for hunting…'.  Vinehout said, 'In Wisconsin, we have a hunting heritage of protecting public land to allow everyone to hunt. Contrast that with Texas where the size of the deer you shoot depends on how much you are willing to pay.'"

                Governor Walker responded, "As long as I am Governor, hunting on public land in Wisconsin will always be open and accessible. I will not allow private organizations to take over deer herd management."  Dr. Kroll defended himself with a similar statement.

                No one answered the original statement by Kroll; is public game management the last bastion of communism?

                According to the 2001 Texas Monthly article where Kroll was originally quoted;

            "People who call for more public lands are 'cocktail conservationists,' [Kroll] says, who are really pining for socialism. He calls national parks 'wildlife ghettos' and flatly accuses the government of gross mismanagement. He argues that his relatively tiny acreage, marked by eight-foot fences and posted signs warning off would-be poachers, is a better model for keeping what's natural natural while making money off the land.

                "A trip to South Africa six years ago convinced Kroll that he was on the right track. There he encountered areas of primitive, lush wildlife-rich habitats called game ranches. They were privately owned, privately managed, and enclosed by high fences. He noticed how most of the land outside those fences had been grazed to the nub, used up. 'Game ranches there derive their income from these animals - viewing them, hunting them, selling their meat,' he says. 'There are no losers.' At his own ranch Kroll has set up a smaller version of the same thing. His land is indeed lush, verdant, with pine groves, an abundance of undergrowth, wild orchids, New Jersey tea, jack-in-the-pulpits, and other native plants. He has also set up a full-scale breeding research center and is one of twenty Texas deer breeders using artificial insemination to improve his herd. 'We balance sex and age ratio,' he says. 'We manage habitat. We control the population and manage for hunting. I want to leave the deer herd better than it was before we came.'"

                The article portrays this as a battle between two systems:  One that is run by the state government that according to Kroll is a poor method.  The other is run by the property owners, which, according to his own and others' examples, can work out wonderfully.  But is the state managed system a form of "communism"?

                Let's consider some similarities.  Like communism, the State owns all the deer.  You are only allowed to harvest what the State lets you have.  The State owns the hunting land (not all of it, but a good percentage of it).  The deer are managed by a council, or "soviet" of elite experts, the DNR.

                Both sides of the current argument are very quick to defend this system.  While there are many differences between the DNR and Soviet Russia, the mentality of those who objected to or defended Dr. Kroll is mutual, they think the State should manage all the deer and should provide poor hunters with public hunting land.

                Many a hunter, including myself, consider public hunting land as what Kroll once called them, "Wildlife ghettos".  Many pay hundreds of dollars to rent hunting land; or tens of thousands of dollars for their own.  Deer herds are better when private land owners have a hand in managing it.  Dr. Kroll's past experience in land management also shows this.

                Since the abolition of state hunting land and state managed deer is too radical, perhaps a compromise could be made.  What if the state hunting system, with its licenses, regulations, quotas, and programs like "earn-a-buck", was only applicable to government-owned land?  Then property owners would be free to choose how they want to manage the deer on their property; whether they want to shoot the deer in their garden in the middle of June, or if they only want to shoot 10-pointers.

                What if the government got completely out of wildlife management?  Imagine how much revenue county governments would receive from not only the sale of forest land, but subsequent property tax collection.  Imagine the extra revenue that lumber companies would receive if they issued their own deer tag system.  Imagine more money circulating in the poor northern counties of Wisconsin as hunters give landowners money for a deer rather than the State.  Simple economics says that as the supply of hunting land rises, the cost to rent falls.  Last of all; imagine the freedoms we would have if there were no DNR.

                Travis Buhler is the Editor of the Eau Claire Journal.  Email: travis@eauclairejournal.com.

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