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Sun, May 23, 2004

DNR feedback line gathers gripes

Fall pheasant hunting prospects are five months and a breeding season away from being defined, but Wisconsin shotgunners already are miffed.

Deer hunters are upset that hunting over bait is allowed - or they're irritated the practice is being restricted at all.

Anglers and hunters contend license fees are too high while regulations governing those activities are too complicated or misguided.

Customer service rendered by the Department of Natural Resources more often is praised than criticized.

These comments and a host of other suggestions from Badger State residents have been received by the DNR since the agency instituted a customer feedback line on Jan. 8.

"We've gotten about 170 calls" in the initial four months of the program, said John R. Sullivan, a DNR specialist who has served as call-line administrator during the startup period.

"There's been a lot of comments on department policies" affecting areas as diverse as deer baiting and feeding to shoreline zone, he said.

The feedback line (608-266-0158) was instituted to give the public a ready means of getting questions answered and to provide a ready forum for comments on department staff members or policies.

"The line is a fully automated, Web-based system," Sullivan said. "It's working very well.

"I read each and every comment, complaint or compliment, then pass it on to the appropriate staff person to respond. Usually that's a regional director or division administrator."
A supervisor might pass the task of answering a message to another staff member, but all comments receive a reply, Sullivan said.

"If an issue must be studied, it may take a week or two to respond to a question," he said, "but our average response time is five to six days."
Sullivan said he meets almost daily with DNR Secretary Scott Hassett and updates him frequently on the feedback line commentary.

But do the gripes and suggestions received have any impact?
"Absolutely," Sullivan said. "I'm not going to say one phone call or five phone calls will change department policy, but they tune the department in to views shared by the public.

"I don't want to say we solved any tremendous problems (through the feedback system), but we have been able to clarify what may have been misinformation (callers) may have had."
Deer baiting and chronic wasting disease rank as the top topic of discussion, receiving 38 calls, of which 36 were opposed to the department's strategy for curtailing the spread of the disease.

Comments on DNR customer service ranked second with 29 calls, 22 of which were a positive reflection on the agency, Sullivan said.

The subject of hunting and fishing regulations was the third-most popular topic, garnering 31 calls. Hunting and fishing license comments drew the fourth greatest number of comments (21), followed by parks (nine) and law enforcement (seven).

Pheasant hunters (four calls) object to agency plans reducing the number of stocked birds that will be released on public hunting lands. DNR officials have announced a cutback is necessary to cope with budget reductions.

"The public has told us loud and clear (pheasant stocking) is a program they want to see continued," Sullivan said.

"We'd love to see it continue ... if the dollars are there."

Jim Lee is an outdoor writer for Gannett Wisconsin Newspapers. He may be reached at 715-845-0605 or by
e-mail at jlee@wdh

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