“I STAND WITH THE SPORTSMEN/WOMEN OF WISCONSIN, I STAND WITH THE RURAL LIFESTYLE, I STAND WITH NATIVE AMERICAN RIGHTS, I STAND WITH HUNTING/FISHING RECREATION, AND I STAND WITH THE WHITE-TAILED DEER!”
But Kroll misses the point. The issue is not Kroll’s motive in accepting the position of Deer Czar, but Walker’s motives in offering it. There is no doubt that Dr. Kroll is a well qualified wildlife biologist and an expert on whitetail deer. But why would Walker need to go to Texas for such expertise? Surely, if there is a state that knows deer, it is Wisconsin. Kroll himself has said as much.
There are two answers.
Frist, Kroll is more than just an academic wildlife biologist. He is a businessman who operates his own website and cable TV show. “Dr. Deer,” as he is known on these venues, is popular among deer hunters, and Kroll is not averse to using this popularity for commercial endorsements. Here he is selling a deer feeder (deer feeding is a controversial practice in Wisconsin):
His claim to “rarely” doing endorsements notwithstanding, Kroll has given his stamp of approval to a variety of products, including:
- Rack Buck – Buck forage oats
- Sneaky Feed – Remote deer feeder monitor
- Skunk Fusion – Cover scent
- NutraDeer – Deer Feed
- GMS – Game Management Software
- Hunt Encino – Texas Commercial Deer Hunt
- Buck Forage – Deer Feed
- Trophy Feeders – Deer feeder
Could Scott Walker just be the latest product that Kroll endorsed? This seems likely. By all accounts Kroll has not actually put much time into Wisconsin since taking the job as Deer Czar. He was not even in the state during the 9 day deer season in 2011. His preliminary report on deer management was short and perfunctory, and demonstrated that he has not put much effort into learning about the state and its hunting history.
This lack of care and effort suggests that Kroll’s true role is not to actually study Wisconsin, but to provide a celebrity endorsement to policies that have already been devised. Kroll is here not to advise Walker, but to sell him to hunters.
There is nothing underhanded or unethical in Kroll endorsing products that he believes in, nor in him profiting from those endorsements. But if Kroll believes in Walker the way he believes in the Boss Buck Feeder System, where does that leave hunters?
This leads us to the second reason why Walker turned to Kroll: Walker could rely on Kroll to give him advice that would advance Walker’s own political agenda.
In Kroll’s response to our story, he claimed that he would never support any policy that worked against the best interest of deer, deer hunters, and rural communities. The problem is that there are many conflicting ideas about what is in the best interest of these three groups.
Kroll’s own ideas strongly favor game farms and private management over viewing deer as a public resource. These ideas are in line with Walker’s passion for privatization, but are at odds with Wisconsin’s traditional public game management. Walker’s vision is so alien to Wisconsin tradition that it is no wonder that he had to go to Texas to find a kindred spirit to endorse it.
Despite vaguely worded denials by DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp and Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie (and their friends at the slavishly pro-Walker Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel), there is every reason to suspect that Walker is planning a radical revision of Wisconsin’s deer management policies, along the lines of those favored by Kroll and recently implemented in Texas. Although Walker claims that his goal is to listen to hunters and incorporate their concerns into policy, he has steadily worked to reduce citizen input into environmental and conservation policy by, for example, stripping the Conservation Congress of power. Consistent with these efforts, Walker has set up Kroll’s position in a way that will exclude public input on the new policies once they are drafted.
As Kroll explains it:
“We’re going to produce an interim report in March and a final report at the end of June. That report goes to the legislature and the governor. That will be our recommendations of actions that need to be taken. It will not go to the DNR. I have been assured our work will not be wasted.”
In other words, no one other than Kroll and his team will be consulted before Walker and the Legislature start implementing his recommendations. The DNR will be cut out of the process. There will be no meaningful public hearings on the proposals once they are written.
While Kroll has been taking input from hunters before he issues his report, once it is issued that input ends. Instead, Kroll will report directly to politicians, people who know nothing about science and are not in a position to judge the quality of Kroll’s work.
We have no doubt that Kroll will produce a report that he believes is fair and accurate, nor that much of his advice will be sensible. But this does not mean that Kroll’s report will not be heavily flavored by his own views on the controversial issues it will discuss, and especially by his contempt for public game management. Walker is counting on this. Once it is in their hands, politicians will pick and choose among the Kroll report’s findings for items that benefit them, their party, the well-heeled lobbyists for game farms, and everyone other than the average hunter. This is a recipe for chaos.
We originally claimed that Kroll has “considerable power” over deer management policy. This was an understatement. He has near-absolute power, and the ability to completely bypass the normal process of making changes and impose his own vision of what is best for the deer and best for the hunter. Deer hunters who thought that the DNR was dictatorial soon will learn what life is like under a Czar.