A MIXTURE of proposed rule changes and big-issue advisory questions will be on the ballot in every county next Monday, April 8, at the annual spring fish and game hearings.

The spring hearings start in every county at 7 p.m. This is the only annual opportunity for Wisconsin residents to shape the future of hunting, fishing and trapping regulations, though the big advisory items on the ballot would require legislation.

In this area, hearings will be held at St. Germain Elementary School, James Williams Middle School in Rhinelander and at the Crandon High School auditorium.

Probably the most controversial rule change is one that would place a three-walleye daily bag limit on the entire Wolf River and Lake Winnebago system.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) held three public hearings in central Wisconsin to discuss its proposal and the reasons behind it, but you won’t find any fact-based biological reasons for the change on the spring questionnaire.

“The heavy fishing pressure, concentration of walleye, and post-spawn feeding patterns often result in periods during April to June when anglers, including novice anglers, can limit out with five fish,” it states.

Other proposed rule changes that could go into effect next year include:

— Establishing a statewide open season for bass but keeping the current harvest seasons;

— Allowing catch-and-release bass tournament anglers to use a 14-inch minimum length limit on any waterbody, even those with an 18-inch minimum;

— Adjusting the minimum length limit for walleyes to 12 inches on the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage and connected waterbodies in Iron County, but allowing only one fish over 15 inches with a three-fish daily bag limit;

— Increasing the muskie size limit from 40 inches to 50 inches on White Sand Lake in Vilas County along with the Minocqua Chain and the Rainbow Flowage in Oneida County;

— Changing the river otter tag framework to a bag limit/quota system where trappers don’t need a physical tag and don’t have to apply for a permit each year;

— Allow trapping on or within 15 feet of beaver dams on public and private property with permission from the landowner;

— Returning to a three-zone season framework for mink and muskrats;

— And, extending the muskie season to Dec. 31 north of Highway 10 if open water is available.

There are also dozens of other county-specific rule changes involving bag limits, size limits and other regulations for individual waterbodies.

On the Conservation Congress side of the questionnaire, there are several far-reaching topics that would require legislation to be enacted.

One of them is changing the youth hunting age limit back to 10 years old, where it was before the Legislature did away with any minimum requirement a couple years ago.

Another advisory topic is removing the mandatory requirement to uncock or encase an unloaded crossbow during transportation in a vehicle.

Wisconsin currently allows unloaded firearms to be transported without a carrying case but doesn’t make the same distinction for crossbows.

A third idea that would require legislation calls for a statewide ban on lead ammunition and fishing gear.

“Scientific evidence shows that lead from spent ammunition and fishing tackle is a source of lead poisoning for at least 130 species of birds and wildlife, and it’s often fatal,” the Congress states.

The Environmental Committee wants Wisconsin to go beyond the federal government’s 1991 move to prohibit lead shot for waterfowl hunting.

For the first time ever, online voting will be offered for anyone who wishes to provide input on the proposed rule changes and advisory questions. The online voting option goes live at the same 7 p.m. starting time and will remain open for 72 hours.

Those who choose the online option will not have their votes count in the county-specific tallies unless they show up at the hearing location and take a random verifiable number that can be submitted when they vote.

Besides the online option, people who don’t have time for the whole hearing can show up any time after 6 p.m. to grab a ballot and vote on the items of their choice.

Next Monday’s hearings are vital to the rule-making process because those proposals only come along once every two years. Last year we had only advisory questions on the ballot.

There’s also a process outlined in the hearing packet for putting your own idea up for a vote. Most of the time, a couple of those ideas show up as a statewide advisory question the following year.

A perfect example is the proposal to extend the open-water muskie season to Dec. 31 north of Highway 10. That question was a locally produced question at the 2017 hearing in Vilas County. It won the support of the attendees and two years later, it’s on the list of proposed rule changes.

The debut of online voting will not alter the process of selecting delegates to the Conservation Congress in each county and any citizen-introduced resolutions, which still require in-person participation.

The Congress is a liaison organization between the DNR and the citizen-run Natural Resources Board that sets most of the policy on fishing, hunting and trapping regulations.

The bottom line is, the spring hearing questionnaire process is still your best opportunity of the year to provide meaningful input on the future of fish and game management.

So attend a hearing or vote online, but don’t miss your chance. And if you do, don’t complain later about the regulations that changed.