Casts and Blasts from the June 21 Commission meeting

The 4th of July may be about a week away, but there were plenty of fireworks at Thursday’s Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Commission meeting at Cabela’s in Kansas City.

Watching the evening session online from where we were vacationing in the Ozarks, it appeared to be the most abrasive meeting in memory. There were commissioners berating commissioners and commissioners berating Wildlife and Parks personnel.

Things also got a bit dicey towards the end when Cabela’s announced the meeting had about an hour to get wrapped-up, and it appeared there was at least two hours of business yet at hand.

So, in the space of about 30 minutes within the six-hour meeting, commissioners approved regulations that outlaw baiting for game on public lands, limit hunters to no more than two treestands and ground blinds per public area, and require those blinds and stands be marked with the owner’s contact information.

It’s also now illegal to shoot a dove unless it is flying and the legal shooting hours on sandhill cranes is sunrise to sunset.

Wait, there’s more, – the closed season on commercial harvesting of mussels will continue and hunters in parts of north-central and northwest Kansas will have more opportunities to shoot greater prairie chickens, too.

Oh, and earlier in the meeting the department and commission took the first steps in easing a new, controversial regulation that doesn’t allow anglers to transport fish they’ve caught for bait to other waters. A change in the works could allow them to transport bluegill and green sunfish for bait if they aren’t taken from waters with some sort of aquatic nuisance species.

Two waterfowl-related issues ate up hours and led to some hot debates on Thursday.

Discussion on the setting of the upcoming duck season dates began in the afternoon and continued into the evening session. Exact dates won’t be set until an Aug. 23 meeting near Great Bend.  The great debate centered around when to open the season for Kansas’ southeast duck zone. It’s roughly south of I-35 as it comes south from Kansas City, then roughly from El Dorado eastward.

The zone was largely created  last year to appease southeast Kansas duck hunters who have long wanted a later season to hunt the winter migrations of mallards into the area.

Last year the southeast zone opened the first Saturday of November while the rest of the late zone opened the last Saturday of October. Wildlife and Parks is recommending similar dates for upcoming seasons.

Commissioner Don Budd, Kansas City, stated that duck hunters in extreme southeast Kansas, like around the Neosho Wildlife Area, were asking for the season to open the third Saturday of November, which would let it include much of January. Budd, who hunts a lot in that area, offered a compromise of opening the season the second Saturday of November.

Gerald Lauber, commission chairman, argued against opening the season later than Wildlife and Parks’ request, saying that hunters around the Marais des Cygnes Wildlife Area and other hunting areas closer to I-35 could be denied chances at good early season hunting for wood ducks and other early migrants.

Budd argued that he had information from Delta Waterfowl that showed migration times are getting increasingly later through time.

He also stated he annually hunts waterfowl about 60 days a season, and suggested Lauber should respect his experience or he wouldn’t respect Lauber’s experience as an avid and accomplished angler. (Budd later voted against changing the legal shooting hours on sandhill cranes, a regulation that Lauber highly supported.)

Robert Wilson, a longtime commissioner from Pittsburg, supports a later opening on the southeast zone duck season, and stated the real problem was that zone extended too far north. He said areas like the Marais des Cygnes and Neosho Wildlife Areas warranted different opening days. He then criticized Wildlife and Parks for including both in the same unit when it was proposed, and approved by the commission,  in 2011.

Zone boundaries can’t be changed for several years because of federal regulations. Commissioners will vote on season dates at the August meeting.

Discussions also got heated when Budd offered an amendment to the regulation concerning the use of bait and blinds on public lands. For about six months he’s pushed for a regulation that would make it illegal for hunters to be less than 200 yards from other hunters on state-managed waterfowl hunting wetlands. He quoted national guidelines that require shotgun target shooting ranges be at least about 300 yards apart, and said several states have similar requirements for waterfowl hunting. Budd said his concerns are strictly an issue of public safety.

Wildlife and Parks has resisted Budd’s idea since it was first mentioned, saying the law would be very difficult to enforce, could greatly limit the number of hunters on the public areas and isn’t needed because of a very low rate of hunting accidents among waterfowl hunters. The agency also said problems could arise when hunters are seperated by obstacles, like dikes, and can’t see each other, arrive and set-up in the dark and/or may be hunting seperate ponds that are within 200 yards of each other.

The department maintains setting up too close to other hunters is a matter of poor hunting ethics, which can’t be regulated.

At one point Budd chastised Brad Simpson, Wildlife and Parks public lands chief, for not having done more research on the topic as had been requested.

Robin Jennison, agency secretary, quickly told commissioners that they don’t have the authority to dictate duties to agency staff.

Finally, Budd’s amendment didn’t get a vote when it was noted that, as written, public wetland waterfowlers couldn’t be within 200 yards of  any hunter – including the other members of their hunting party.

Wildlife and Parks agreed to create signage to suggest proper distances for waterfowl hunters on their lands. Hopefully they’ll be posted by this fall’s seasons.

By then, commissioners were left with very little time to discuss, consider and vote on 12 regulations.

Chairman Lauber sounded like an auctioneer, trying to hurry proceedings to finish the meeting by Cabela’s 9 p.m. closing. (State regulations say a meeting’s unfinished business is to be finished the following morning, but Cabela’s said their facilities were not available for Friday morning.)

In the final minutes of the commission meeting more eyes were on watches than at a state track meet.

Official business finished at exactly 9 p.m. and people hustled from the room.

The meeting was the last for Commissioner Frank Meyer’s term.

The farewell cake honoring Meyer’s eight years of service was served on a picnic table near the Cabela’s parking lot after the meeting, according to Chris Tymeson, department attorney.