Equal Protection Under the Law? Not if you live in Wisconsin

14th Amendment. Photo from US Government.

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The above words are from the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. Equal protection of the laws is a broad and clear statement about what rights American citizens have. Unfortunately when it comes to wildlife “management” and how decisions are made about said “management” in states like Wisconsin, equal protection is a foreign and nonexistent concept. As wildlife advocates here know all too well, our voices are ignored and we are allowed zero representation in any of the decision making bodies. This is especially the case with the Natural Resources Board. This board is an unelected group of political donors and special interest lobbying group heads that is given the power to dictate everything that happens with our wildlife and our environment. The current incarnation of this board has a Republican dentist, a “former” big ag lobbying group president, the founder of the anti-wolf “Hunter’s Rights Coalition” and retailer of hunting equipment, and a property developer among the seven members. I am just a simple concerned citizen but that certainly seems like a walking and talking group of glaring conflicts of interest to me. As concerning as these conflicts of interest are the law that governs the make up of this board is as blatantly discriminatory as a statute can be.

15.34(2)(bg) (bg) At least one member of the natural resources board shall have an agricultural background. The governor may request statewide agricultural organizations to submit recommendations for nominees under this paragraph.

15.34(2)(br)1.1. At least 3 members of the natural resources board shall be individuals who held an annual hunting, fishing, or trapping license, in this state or another state, in at least 7 of the 10 years previous to the year in which the individual is nominated, except as provided in subd. 2. The governor may request statewide organizations that are primarily interested in supporting hunting, fishing, or trapping to submit recommendations for nominees under this paragraph.

Despite the 14th Amendment requiring equal protection under the law, the State of Wisconsin writes discrimination directly into law by requiring the presence of a majority agriculture and killing special interests. Am I the only one that sees something wrong with the government REQUIRING someone to purchase a government license or to be a member of a special interest group to be eligible for nomination to a board that decides public policy? Isn’t this also an example of our government giving special interests a permanent majority and allowing open and blatant conflicts of interest for those appointed to the board? How are we supposed to expect a fair and impartial examination of the issues placed before this board if they are current and former members of the very special interest groups that lobby for and against the very things they vote on?

The law governing the Natural Resources Board is just one of many ways that the State of Wisconsin shuts out the voices of wildlife advocates and has a double standard for those that partake in recreational killing. How are these for double standards?

DNR PDF telling people that feeding human food to wildlife is bad. The hypocrisy when it comes to bear baiting is staggering.

In Wisconsin you can dump an unlimited amount of bait targeting bears for over six months of the year legally and with no registration or permits required. On the opposite side if you feed a wild animal other than some song birds, for “non-hunting purposes” you can be given a citation and potentially face criminal charges. The DNR even put out a fluffy “Don’t Feed Wildlife” page talking about how bad it is to feed wild animals. Of course there is zero mention that they allow the unlimited and unregulated baiting of bears and thus other wildlife for over six months each year to the tune of an estimated five million gallons of human junk food.

Trappers can post photos of them taunting or posing with wild animals caught in traps despite state rules stating:

All live furbearing animals taken during the open season for such species shall be released unharmed or dispatched immediately and made part of the daily bag. It is unlawful to keep such animals alive after their capture unless you have first obtained a DNR permit, license or authorization to possess the animal alive.

Wisconsin trapper posing with wolf that he killed and her pup struggling in a trap in 2014. Photo shared via Fair Use for educational purposes.

Of course as we know social media is full of sadistic Wisconsin trappers posing with and taunting animals caught in their traps. Despite the legal mandate for them to release or kill the animal immediately the DNR refuses to enforce their own regulations. On the flip side if you are a wildlife rehabilitatior the DNR will revoke your rehab permit if you take photos of yourself with the animals that you are caring for and remove the animals from your care and possibly kill them. How’s that for a double standard?

Speaking of being photographed. Did you know that you can be arrested and jailed for taking a photo of or even being seen by a hunter, trapper, or hounder here in Wisconsin? That’s right. Under the so-called “Right to Hunt” act if you want to use public lands, don’t share a killing ideology, and take a photo of or are even seen by one of these people, you can be charged and arrested for “hunter harassment.” The law states:

Engaging in a series of 2 or more acts carried out over time, however short or long, that show a continuity of purpose and that are intended to impede or obstruct a person who is engaged in lawful hunting, fishing, or trapping, or an activity associated with lawful hunting, fishing, or trapping, including any of the following:

a. Maintaining a visual or physical proximity to the person.

b. Approaching or confronting the person.

c. Photographing, videotaping, audiotaping, or through other electronic means, monitoring or recording the activities of the person. This subd. 7. c. applies regardless of where the act occurs.

In other words you can be labeled a criminal for the crime of using PUBLIC lands and having the nerve to be seen by or take a photo or video of a hunter, hounder, or trapper on PUBLIC land. Equal protection under the law? If that were the case why should someone hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, wildlife watching, or participating in silent sports not have the same protections from recreational animal killers? They are far more of a threat than the person walking through the woods. This law is being challenged in court as of December 2019 and is awaiting a decision from the federal court.

Do these examples make you angry? They should. These are just a few of the countless examples of how the voices of wildlife advocates are marginalized, discriminated against, and even made into criminals for exercising their rights on public lands in Wisconsin. I could also go on to call out the hunter, trapper, hounder front group organization known as the Wisconsin Conservation Congress but that will be a topic for another post. As an American and Wisconsin citizen, I not only expect but demand my equal protection under the law as I am guaranteed in the United States Constitution. It seems that Wisconsin cares nothing of my rights and the rights of other wildlife advocates in our state. How can we change this? More on that in future posts. In the meantime do not be afraid to stand up for your rights and call out those that seek to silence you.