Wisconsin seeks input on St. Croix River fishing, lead ammunition, and more

Annual county-level meetings cancelled, but online questionnaire will still let residents vote on important issues.




5 minute read

Fishing on the upper St. Croix (Greg Seitz, St. Croix 360)

The Wisconsin Conservation Congress, a state agency that advises the Department of Natural Resources, is launching its Spring Hearings — with changes required by coronavirus. The annual process for providing citizen input on a wide range of issues related to managing the state’s wildlife and other resources will take place entirely online this year.

The Spring Hearings typically include meetings in all 72 Wisconsin counties. At those meetings, attendees elect delegates and vote on an extensive questionnaire.

Last year, the Congress introduced online voting for the first time. This year, it will be the only option.

“The recent implementation of online voting allows the WCC and its delegates the opportunity to vote without having to appear in person. Following the guidelines from state and federal agencies, members will still have the opportunity to let their voices be heard when it comes to conservation issues,” said Larry Bonde, chair of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress. “We understand the value of the in-person meeting for discussion and sharing of ideas, but our top priority is the health and safety of our citizens. We look forward to resuming the in-person meetings next year.”

The online input option will be available from 7 p.m. on April 13 to 7 p.m. on April 16. Results will be posted as soon as they are available.

There are several questions about policies that affect the St. Croix River and its tributaries.

St. Croix sport fish

Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway intern David Moy shows off a musky he caught. (National Park Service photo)

From the questionnaire:

“River fisheries are sensitive to flooding of nest beds and bag limits. The Namekagon River and St. Croix River (these rivers are connected) are valuable economic and recreational resources for Sawyer, Burnett, and Washburn Counties.

“DNR census studies of the Namekagon River show that it has lower smallmouth bass populations compared to other regional river fisheries (Chippewa and Flambeau). These same studies show that the Namekagon River has the potential to become and remain a smallmouth bass and musky “trophy fishery,” which is currently an important driver for out of state/region anglers to visit and support the local economy.”

  • #36 – Would you support reducing the daily bag limit for smallmouth bass on the Namekagon River and St. Croix River to one fish with a harvest minimum size of 18 inches?
  • #37 – Would you support reducing the daily bag limit for musky on the Namekagon River and St. Croix River to one fish with a harvest minimum size of 50 inches?

Lastly, question #47 asks about opening the muskie season earlier in the northern part of the state, including the St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers. Currently, the season opens on the Saturday closes to Memorial Day, long after the opening of most other fishing seasons.

The proposal would change the opener to match the other seasons on the first Saturday of May, but would be restricted to catch-and-release until “the Friday before the Saturday nearest Memorial Day, with the harvest season starting the Saturday nearest Memorial Day.”

Get the lead out

A swan sickened with lead poisoning on the St. Croix River in 2015. (Photo courtesy Margaret Smith, Trumpeter Swan Society)

This year, the first seven questions focus on possible policies to prevent lead poisoning of bald eagles, trumpeter swans, loons, and other animals. A high percentage of those species die from lead poisoning each year after ingesting lead fishing tackle lost by anglers, or lead shot from scavenging on deer killed by hunters.

The Department of Natural Resources says it is “exploring requiring use of non-toxic shot on state owned lands or for certain species.”

The questions fall into two categories, use of lead shot on state properties, and use for hunting specific game:

  • Do you support requiring the use of non-toxic shot, bullets, and shotgun slugs on all state owned or managed properties, except for department designated shooting ranges?
  • Do you support requiring the use of non-toxic shot for the hunting of doves, pheasants, wild turkey, ruffed grouse, and small game mammals on state owned or managed properties?

The potential for reducing the amount of lead in the environment has been hailed by wildlife advocates.

“The Trumpeter Swan Society is particularly interested in questions related to lead poisoning in wildlife which occurs through two means: lead ammo/shot and lead fishing tackle,” said Margaret Smith of the Trumpeter Swan Society. “For waterfowl, loons etc., it doesn’t matter the product the lead is in, they can pick it up either way and it has the same impact: it kills them.”

A 2009 report from the state found that lead is responsible for significant numbers of deaths in certain bird species.

  • Approximately 25% of Trumpeter Swan fatalities were attributed to lead toxicity, and approximately 15% of live-sampled Trumpeter Swans had elevated blood lead levels.
  • Approximately 15% of all Bald Eagle deaths in Wisconsin were attributed to lead toxicity. A noticeable increase in the percent of fatalities attributed to lead toxicity began in October and peaked in December. This pattern overlapped with the hunting seasons in Wisconsin, suggesting lead ammunition could be a major source of lead exposure in eagles.
  • Approximately 30% of the dead loons submitted for necropsy were found to be lead poisoned. Lead fishing gear was recovered from the GI tracts of loons in all cases where lead toxicity was a major contributor to the cause of death.

The study authors noted that the methods used for analysis mean the numbers are likely underestimated.

Strom, Sean. (2009). Lead Exposure in Wisconsin Birds. 10.4080/ilsa.2009.0205. Source (PDF)

Other issues of note

Many of the other questions are related to deer hunting, including actions to prevent the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease and the possible lengthening of the firearm season by 10 days.

Another question considers a new spring bear hunting season, while another asks if the state should allow non-Wisconsin residents to harvest wild rice in the state.

Finally, the survey asks about strategies to restore funding levels for natural resource management. The agency acknowledges that declines in hunting and fishing are affecting traditional sources of revenue for the DNR.

“Currently, the DNR’s wildlife and fisheries management programs receive funding from license and stamp sales, federal grants and legislative appropriations. However, license and stamp sales are the most significant source of funding. Declines in license and stamp sales reduce funding, which can result in reduced staff, reprioritization of work and project delays.

The question asks if the legislature should create “an alternative funding source.”

Make your voice heard

The online survey will be available at the Spring Hearing page starting at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 13.

Citizen resolutions can be submitted through April 6. Resolutions should be submitted via email to SpringHearingInfo@Wisconsin.gov or mail typed hardcopies to: Kari Lee-Zimmermann, Conservation Congress Liaison, P.O. Box 7921 WCC/4, Madison WI 53707-7921. Resolutions must also meet the requirements identified here or they will not be accepted.

Current delegate terms will be extended by one year, so there won’t be voting for them this year. Any delegate wishing to be leave their seat this year can do so, and the county chair will appoint replacements.


13 responses to “Wisconsin seeks input on St. Croix River fishing, lead ammunition, and more”

  1. Troy Avatar

    The muskie limit already 50″. Limiting the the bass fishery in any way is a non-starter for me, I do not wish to see changes to fishing limits in any form. The article talks about the loss of sportsman dollars to fund budgets. Making further restrictions on lead shot and tackle and reducing fish limits, will only reduce the number of sportsmen and dollars available to fund the outdoors. The slow death “by a thousand cuts” attack on the interests of hunters and fishermen by measures like those proposed are at the heart of what the real problem is. Commercial interest, elitist, and anti-sportsmen driven proposals really hurt the outdoors and conservation. These proposals should be laughed off the table!

    1. Rick Avatar

      Hi Troy, I have personally witnessed exploitative legal harvesting of Smallmouth Bass on the two rivers. The current regulations from the 1960’s allow each fisherman to “harvest” 5 Bass over 14″. 15 guys from St. Paul in 5 rented canoes in a two day float trip can legally kill 150 Smallmouth Bass. The Bass get to to St. Paul in coolers. We have seen the gut piles in National Park campsites. Agree people are probably not harvesting Musky, but you are wrong about the limit. The current kill size on Musky in those rivers is 40″.

    2. Mark Avatar

      Obviously managing the harvest will increase the fish poulation and for anyone who likes to fish thats a good thing.This is of course assuming one is not surviving by using bass as their food source which is a safe assumption here. I fully support 36 and 37

  2. Rick Avatar

    Good article Greg, I am going to support all of those questions. The legal exploitative harvesting of fish in our closest National Park (National Scenic Riverways) has to be controlled. Thanks for letting us know.

  3. Stu Avatar

    I’m a sportsman, conservationist, tremendous lover of the outdoors, and frequent fisher of the upper St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers, and I fully support both questions 36 and 37. The musky size limit upstream of the border water is currently 40”, not 50”, and these questions only apply to the water upstream of the border. The proposed smallmouth regulation will benefit the fishery greatly as the riverway sees more and more fishing pressure and exposure to over harvesting, and assure that the excellent bass fishing we love will continue to exist into the future.

  4. Michael Dibenedetto Avatar
    Michael Dibenedetto

    When I can buy non lead ammunition for almost the same price even at big box stores, there is no reason not to switch. Rifle ammunition for $25/ box compared to $19/ box, and shotgun ammo for around $5/ box for non lead.

  5. Janet Avatar

    The Namekagon River is a treasure in terms of canoeing, camping and fishing (who knew it was a National Park too?). All aspects of the river should be cared for and protected, including the fishery, for future generations to enjoy. I am in support of questions 36 & 37.


    Smallmouth Catch-and-Release on the St Croix.

    1. Mark Avatar


  7. Troy Avatar

    Hi Rick, the Wisconsin regulations does state that the muskie size limit is 50 inches along the Minnesota-Wisconsin border waters, which includes the majority of the St. Croix river (You need to check the section called border waters).There will always be people who desire to take a limit of smallmouth bass. That is their prerogative. Most people do not keep a limit of smallmouth bass. Changing the regulations to please a small cadre, and the most extreme members of the fishing community, by restricting the limit to one fish over 18 inches is not the answer. That said, I don’t condone a party of 15 fishermen keeping 150 fish, but there are always bad actors in every group. Making everybody else that likes to catch and eat fish pay for the bad behavior of the few is not the answer.

    Personally, I would rather keep a 6 year old 14 inch smallmouth bass, than a 10-12 year old 18 inch bass if it was to be eaten for dinner. If the interest is trophy fish, perhaps having a catch and release regulation for fish over 16 or 18 inches for trophy hunters would be a more responsible answer to an alleged problem. The whole issue reminds be of the misguided “trophy management” for big antlered whitetails in the deer hunting community.

    I feel even the way this article was written shows a inherent bias. Making comparisons between different rivers is like comparing apples and oranges. No attempt was made at all to give the downside of the proposed regulation change, usually that is an indication that the issue is flawed.

    The St. Croix river is, in a sense, two rivers, one above the dam and one below the dam at St. Croix falls. The upper river, especially above the Namekagon, is far smaller and potentially easier exploited than river segments farther down the river. A lot of the time there is hardly anyone fishing on many segments of the river above St. Croix Falls.

    Don’t ruin fishing for the rest of us.

    1. Greg Seitz Avatar

      Troy – All the language in this article about the proposed changes was copied and pasted from the DNR questionnaire. Greg

      1. Troy Avatar

        Greg – I don’t doubt that the language is in the questionaire, I am just stating that the legal size limit is 50 inches for muskies in the St. Croix border waters if that is what you are referring to. Troy

  8. Troy Avatar

    I catch as many smallmouth bass now as ever.


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Wisconsin seeks input on St. Croix River fishing, lead ammunition, and more