Promising to "give the majority in Dane County a voice" on the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, Melissa Smith won a seat Monday night to the panel that advises the Department of Natural Resources on wildlife management and sporting matters.
"Hunting and trapping in state parks is not a compromise," Smith told the hundreds of Dane County residents packed into the Performing Arts Center at Sun Prairie High School. The state Legislature last year approved a controversial proposal to allow trapping in state parks for the first time as well as expanded hunting. The DNR Board scaled back the breadth of its original proposal, allowing these activities just two months of the year, but that has not satisfied critics like Smith who came out in force Monday to try to unseat two Dane County delegates to the Conservation Congress.
Smith will replace incumbent Matt Rainey and serve a two-year term. But incumbent Al Phalen beat off a challenge by Adam Kassulke and was reelected to a three-year term.
Kassulke, like Smith, criticized the direction of natural resources policy in recent years, saying that the hunting of wolves was a "travesty" and the result of a narrow and politicized process that excluded interested parties, including Native Americans.
In her pitch, Smith argued that state parks should be a "safe haven" for the enjoyment of wildlife and that "dogs should never be used to hunt wolves."
Smith, who says she is not opposed to "ethical hunting," is a sociologist who currently works in a Madison homeless shelter. She says she worked on the reintroduction of the gray wolf in New Mexico in the 1990s and has a background in ecology and environmental activism.
There are five elected delegates from each county on the Conservation Congress. Delegates win seats by majority vote and serve either two- or three-year terms.
Elections were held in each county across the state Monday night. The meetings also included public hearings on a number of proposals related to wildlife management, and attendees could weigh in with their opinion on provided questionnaires. Questions included the specific -- "Do you favor allowing trolling statewide with up to 3 hooks, baits, or lures per angler?" -- and more general, including whether the state should expand the opportunities to hunt and trap in state parks.