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Group sues to restart Wisconsin DNR hunter-training courses

By TODD RICHMOND
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Kansas-based hunting advocacy group filed a lawsuit on Wednesday seeking to force the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to restart in-person hunter-training courses.

Wisconsin law requires anyone born after Jan. 1, 1973, to complete hunter training to obtain a hunting license and hunt alone. DNR officials canceled department-sponsored in-person courses in March as the coronavirus pandemic seized the country and have refused to recognize completion certificates from other courses as part of the state’s push to slow the virus’ spread through social distancing.

“Defendants’ actions … greatly restrict or outright eliminate the options for Wisconsinites to become licensed hunters, putting our state’s proud hunting heritage — a heritage that has helped sustain our state for generations — at risk,” Hunter Nation’s lawsuit argues.

Hunter Nation is out of Mission, Kansas. Its constitution calls for promoting the right to hunt and hunting as a way of life. The group’s website states that it will work to restore hunters to “their rightful place as America’s truest conservationists.”

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a conservative activist law firm, filed the lawsuit on the group’s behalf in Marathon County Circuit Court.

The hunting group alleges that the DNR is denying people the right to hunt and lacks the authority to cancel in-person educational courses.

The state constitution guarantees the right to hunt and state law requires the DNR offer hunter-safety courses to the public, the lawsuit argues. The state Supreme Court struck down Democratic Gov. Tony Evers stay-at-home order in May and the governor’s state of emergency declaration expired that same month, the lawsuit adds.

The DNR is offering online courses, but students younger than 18 still must attend an in-person field day and take a written test, which they can’t do under the DNR’s “ban” on in-person education, the lawsuit argues.

Those older than 18 can take the online course without attending a field day or taking a written test, but the DNR’s website makes it clear that an online course isn’t adequate for adults who lack hunting or firearms experience, the lawsuit contends.

DNR spokeswoman Sarah Hoye said the department had no comment on the lawsuit, but the DNR is continuing to look to health officials for guidance on when to resume in-person recreational safety classes.

“Our first priority is safety,” Hoye said in a statement. “We hope to be able to resume in-person classes as soon as possible and the Department will be ready to assist our hunter safety instructors to make that happen.”

DNR officials said in a statement before the lawsuit was filed that they have put hunter safety courses “on pause” but haven’t suspended them for the remainder of the year. They said they’re waiting for the state Department of Public Instruction to post guidelines for schools on returning to in-person instruction before deciding whether to restart the courses.

They also noted that people don’t need a license to hunt if they’re accompanied by a licensed mentor hunter and stay within arm’s reach of that person.

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