Outdoorsmen back woodchuck hunting season
MADISON - Outdoorsmen urged the Wisconsin Assembly's natural resource committee to approve a bill that would establish a woodchuck hunting and trapping season, saying it would protect gardens, flowerbeds and building foundations from the creatures' incessant appetites and burrowing.
The Republican-authored bill would remove woodchucks, also known as groundhogs and whistle pigs, from Wisconsin's protected species list and establish a hunting season for them that would run from July through December with no bag limits. The authors, Rep. Andre Jacque of DePere and Sen. Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst, argue that the creatures are plentiful and are wreaking havoc across the state.
"The combination of its prevalence and its nuisance ... merit the removal of the woodchuck from the protected species list," Tiffany told the committee.
The committee seemed amused to be discussing woodchucks. Chairman Joel Kleefisch, of Oconomowoc, introduced Tiffany as the Senate's honorary whistle pig. When Jacque joined Tiffany several minutes late, Kleefisch quipped "Just under the whistle pig."
Jacque told the committee that a number of other states allow woodchuck hunting, including Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois and even Pennsylvania, which is home of Punxsutawney Phil, the famous groundhog that predicts the length of winters. Hunters can kill woodchucks in that state year-round if they're causing damage.
Wisconsin farmers and gardeners fear woodchucks because they eat plants and burrow holes in fields that can trip livestock and ruin tractors, Jacque said. He added that he's heard from constituents that woodchuck digging can cause serious damage to building foundations, sidewalks and roads.
Dan Cichantek is a Manitowoc trapper and a director of the Manitowoc County Fish and Game Protective Association, a consortium of northeastern Wisconsin outdoor clubs. He began the push for a woodchuck season nine years ago by introducing a resolution at a Wisconsin Conservation Congress spring hearing.
He told the committee that he traps nuisance animals for the city of Manitowoc and woodchucks have been digging up the city's wastewater treatment ponds and hillsides. No one can stop them since they're protected, he said. He urged the committee to start the season in April, when woodchucks emerge from hibernation.
Conservation Congress Chairman Rob Bowman told the committee that all 72 counties supported removing woodchucks' protected status during the 2009 spring hearings.
George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, said he used to shoot woodchucks with a .22 as a boy on the New Holstein farm where he grew up. The animals undermined the machine shed and were always trying to get into the corn crib, he said. He urged lawmakers to create a longer season as well.
"They are tasty," he said. "My mother used to bake them with rice. I can tell you from living on a farm they are not endangered at all."
Jacque introduced an almost identical bill in 2013. That measure sparked a fierce backlash from animal lovers and never got a committee vote. Not so this time around. No one spoke against the bill on Wednesday and the Humane Society of the United States is the only group that has registered in opposition.
Humane Society lobbyist Melissa Tedrowe said the animal rights group doesn't see any need to hunt woodchucks.
She said people can control the animals with non-lethal techniques such as harassing them out of the area; disturbing their burrow system by plugging it up or placing foul-smelling material such as urine-saturated kitty litter at the entrances; fencing off gardens or tying silver balloons into gardens to scare them away.
Kleefisch said he expects the committee will vote on the bill in a few weeks after amending it to create a year-round season.