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By James B. Nelson June 4, 2012

Recall challenger Tom Barrett says “Scott Walker has a plan to privatize state lands” and “wants to sell our deer to the highest bidder.”

Picking up on chain email and internet rumblings, Democratic gubernatorial recall challenger Tom Barrett is hunting for votes in the June 5, 2012 election by aiming for Wisconsin’s 600,000 deer hunters.

Here’s the pitch:

"Scott Walker has a plan to privatize state lands," Barrett says on his campaign web site. "Don’t let Scott Walker take away your right to hunt deer on public lands!"

There’s even Facebook page called "Save Wisconsin Hunting" set up that is connected to an effort by the liberal Daily Kos web site to highlight the hot-button issue.

The Barrett campaign also bought a Google ad. Type "James Kroll" in the search box, and you get this message: "Scott Walker wants to sell our deer to the highest bidder" with a "Join us!" link goes to the campaign website.

The target is Republican Gov. Scott Walker, but the man at the center of the issues is James Kroll,  the Texas consultant hired for $125,000 by Walker to recommend improvements to the state’s deer management system. Kroll is known as "Dr. Deer" from his articles in hunting magazines and his appearances on hunting shows on TV.

His recommendations are expected in late June 2012.

So where does Barrett’s claim Walker wants to "privatize state lands" and "sell our deer to the highest bidder" come from?

Hunting on public land has long been part of our state’s deer hunting tradition. Of the 339,261 deer killed in 2011, about 60,012 were taken on public land, according to the Department of Natural resources.

The Barrett campaign did not respond to our request for their backup on the claim, but a return to Google shows an on-going back and forth between the two sides.

Many of the attacks on Kroll -- and Walker -- stem from Kroll quotes in a Feburary 2002 story in the Texas Monthly. The full story is behind the magazine’s pay wall, but here’s what the most cited portion says:

"Game management," says James Kroll, driving to his high-fenced, two-hundred-acre spread near Nacogdoches, "is the last bastion of communism."

And it continued:

"People who call for more public lands are ‘cocktail conservationists,’" he says, who are really pining for socialism. He calls national parks "wildlife ghettos" and flatly accuses the government of "gross mismanagement."

But the article is 10 years old and there has been no public indication from Kroll that he advocates turning Wisconsin’s public lands into a game farm where you have to pay to hunt. Nor has there been any indication Walker supports such an approach.

This was made clear in a May 26, 2012 piece by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel outdoor editor Paul Smith: "While he is a controversial figure among wildlife professionals for his extensive work in high fence deer management and captive deer breeding, at no point has Kroll advocated for privatizing deer hunting in Wisconsin."

Kroll told Smith his comments were distorted by a liberal publication. But they’ve caught fire. In a chain email, those who receive it are asked to pass it along since it is sure to cause a wedge among Walker supporters.

Here’s one post from the Barrett site: "Kroll has an extreme philosophy of turning public hunting grounds into profit-making entities. This would have dire consequences for average Wisconsinites, and make it far costlier to take part in this Midwestern tradition."

Kroll responded with a lengthy blog post of his own:

"The blog reports of what I said about ‘communism’ is a distortion of my real feelings, as well," Kroll wrote, in part. "We discussed how the top-down approach to game management was the wrong approach (sound familiar in regard to Wisconsin?), and if you give people the incentives and support to manage game animals on private and public lands, as well as a say in how these resources are managed, it is a ‘win-win’ for everyone."

And he told Smith: "The last thing I want is to make it harder for hunters to participate in the great sport of deer hunting in Wisconsin on public land."

We asked Walker’s office about the governor’s plans for deer hunters.

"Governor Walker supports hunting on public land, always has supported hunting on public land, and will continue to in the future," Walker spokesman Cullen Werwire said in an email. "Governor Walker will not enact ‘steep fees’ to hunt on public lands. That is crazy."

Our rating

Barrett claimed "Scott Walker has a plan to privatize state lands" and "wants to sell our deer to the highest bidder."

The evidence for the claim goes back to a 10-year-old article that describes Kroll’s views about hunting in his home state of Texas, not Wisconsin. His final report has not been made, there is nothing about privatization in any preliminary recommendations, and Kroll has stated clearly he does not support private management of state lands for hunters. Walker has said the same.

Without any direct evidence, this claim looks like all heat and no light.

Pants on Fire!

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Barrett for Wisconsin web site on hunting

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Cries from left groundless on deer hunt review," Paul A. Smith column, May 26, 2012

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Deer trustee preliminary report issued," March 28, 2012

Interim report from James Kroll, March 2012

Dr. Deer "Where I stand" blog post

Texas Monthly, "Which side of the fence are you on?"  Feb. 2002

Facebook Page, Save Wisconsin Hunting

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources deer hunt statistics

Email, Cullen Werwie, spokesman, Gov. Scott Walker, May 31, 2012

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by James B. Nelson

Recall challenger Tom Barrett says “Scott Walker has a plan to privatize state lands” and “wants to sell our deer to the highest bidder.”

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