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Fishing and other forms of outdoor recreation in Wiscconsin are on the increase in 2020, according to data from the Department of Natural Resources. (Photo: Paul A. Smith/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

The coronavirus pandemic caused an economic downturn, job losses and killed more than 1,000 people in Wisconsin so far this year.

While many events or activities have been canceled, postponed or limited by the pandemic, participation in outdoor recreation has increased, according to data from the Department of Natural Resources.

Since COVID-19 began to seriously affect life in the Badger State in mid-March, the DNR has observed a concomitant surge in camping, fishing and hunting.

At Wisconsin State Parks, for example, weekend attendance May 16-17 was up 44% compared to the previous year and June 13-14 was up 52% as camping reopened on state properties.

The agency reported 73% of campsites were reserved July 1 to 21, up from 62% for the same period in 2019.

The state has sold 1.4 million fishing licenses and stamps so far this year, a 14% year-over-year increase.

Although most hunting seasons have yet to begin, 307,125 spring turkey hunting licenses were sold, up 11% from 2019.

Sales of conservation patron licenses, which include a wide range of fishing, hunting, state park and trail privileges, are at 55,165, up 7%.

Overall, the DNR reported it sold 3,234,859 licenses and permits so far this year, a 5% increase from 2019.

Outdoor recreation, long touted for its positive health effects, can be done in ways that minimize risks of spreading or contracting COVID-19, according to state officials.

“Being outdoors not only does wonders for our health and well-being during these uncertain times, it helps support local small businesses,” said DNR Secretary Preston D. Cole in a statement.

Fishing, hiking and hunting, for example, were deemed “essential activities” during the state’s Safer-At-Home order in April.

In some cases, attendance limits have been imposed at state properties to help reduce crowding.

Outdoor recreation in Wisconsin has a $7.8 billion annual economic impact and supports more than 93,000 jobs, according to the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.

Tourism officials are encouraging continued use of Wisconsin’s 49 state parks, 15 state forests, 44 state trails, 84,000 miles of rivers and streams and roughly 15,000 lakes through a “Find Your Adventure” campaign.

Prospective visitors to state parks are asked to check the DNR website for park capacity updates, changes to access and current health and safety precautions before they head out.

Licenses are available for purchase through the DNR’s Go Wild web site.

Another major bass tournament in Sturgeon Bay: For the second time in just over one month, a national professional bass fishing circuit will hold a tournament in Sturgeon Bay when the Tackle Warehouse TITLE presented by Toyota comes to Door County Monday through Saturday.

The field will feature the top 50 anglers from the 2020 FLW Pro Circuit season who will compete for a piece of the $820,000 purse, including $235,000 for first place. The tourney will utilize a catch, weigh and immediately release format, the same used for the Major League Fishing event held July 10-15 in Sturgeon Bay.

In the MLF 2020 Bass Pro Tour Covercraft Stage Five Presented by Abu Garcia, the Door County smallmouth fishery helped anglers set several MLF records, including the single-day catch of 141 pounds, 9 ounces by Justin Lucas, 34, of Guntersville, Alabama.

The FLW event this week will divide the field into two groups for qualifying rounds Monday-Thursday, then the top 10 from each group will face off in a knockout round on Friday before the top 10 take to the water Saturday for the championship round.

Due to health precautions related to the coronavirus pandemic, attendance is limited to anglers and essential staff. Fans can follow the event online through expanded FLW Live weigh-in broadcasts at and daily coverage at

DNR seeks comments on expanded ATV/UTV use in Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest: The DNR is seeking input on a proposed variance to the master plan of the Northern Highlands-American Legion State Forest that would allow increased use of ATVs and UTVs in the public property.

The change would designate 1.4 miles of ATV/UTV routes on DNR roads in the state forest. DNR roads proposed for ATV/UTV route designation in the towns of Sugar Camp and Woodruff, would, in conjunction with routes on local and county roads, contribute to a system of ATV/UTV routes through the forest that connect communities and provide additional recreation opportunities, according to the agency.

The public can review the draft variance, maps that show the proposed and previously planned routes and submit comments at The deadline to submit comments is Sept. 11.

Questions or comments can also be submitted to Phil Rynish, DNR property planner, via email at [email protected], or mail at Wisconsin DNR; Attn: Phil Rynish, P.O. Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707-7921.

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