By Don Mallicoat
In my work, I have to cruise the internet looking for articles of interest about hunting and fishing. Sometimes I wish that didn’t have to be. Every now and then something gets my blood boiling. That’s what happened to me a couple of weeks ago on an issue that quickly trips my circuit breaker. There it was in a July 29 article in Carolina Public Press: NC commission delays action on lifting Sunday hunting ban. Steam started coming out of my ears.
Here’s the bottom line for you: It looks like there will be at least another two-year delay in the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) opening public lands to Sunday hunting. Given authority by the General Assembly in 2017 to open public lands to Sunday hunting, it appears it will take at least until the 2021 – 2022 season before those lands are open. This foot dragging on this issue should get all hunters’ blood boiling as well.
According to the article, the WRC Land Use and Access Committee met on July 17 and confirmed a strategy to gather more public input before deciding to open game lands to Sunday hunting or to continue current restrictions. Brian McRae, WRC Section Chief is quoted as saying the delay is “in part due to a sense of unease among some of the WRC commissioners. McRae also said they would be advocating for a broad public outreach approach to gathering feedback. One of the commissioners, Monty Crump, stated, “We have a responsibility to engage as many people and stakeholders as possible.”
So here’s what gets my goat. If memory serves, I’ve written about this in the past. Commission game lands generally fall into three categories: WRC owned properties; Private (corporate) lands in agreement with the commission; Other public areas in an agreement with the commission (National and State Forests). Those last two categories I get. Either the landowner has a say in how their property is used or multiple users must be considered for other public lands.
It’s the first category, WRC- owned lands, which is the exception. Those are landholdings of the commission. In the article, John Culclasure of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation nails it, “Game lands are purchased in large part and managed mostly with hunter-generated dollars, and it makes sense that hunters should have access to these lands seven days a week like everyone else.”
Anyone using WRC-owned game lands should be aware that the primary purpose of those lands is wildlife habitat management for hunters. If they don’t like that purpose, there are plenty of other opportunities for hiking, biking, or bird watching on other public lands like state parks or national forests. Feel free to enjoy those. But for non-consumptive users (i.e. non-payers) to have an equal voice on those lands is a slap in the face of NC hunters.
I’ve been silent on the subject for a while, but this is a symptom of a deeper problem. That has to do with the size, selection, and composition of the commission itself. There are 19 commissioners and only nine of those represent the commission districts. So the districts are under-represented. The other 10 are at-large appointees by the Governor and General Assembly leadership. None of the at-large appointees are from the mountains. Political appointees have no allegiance to the primary stakeholders, in this case, hunters, as this decision shows.
I don’t know if this is just a sign of the current political correctness in our country where everyone gets a voice in how things are done. Yes, public input is useful. However, not all stakeholders are equal. In just about every situation, there are both primary and secondary stakeholders based on several factors. The commission should always make decisions with primary consideration given to those primary stakeholders. I’m reminded of the old southerner saying, “Dance with the one who brung you.” Some group has more invested in the decision than others. Decisions should favor that group; in this case, hunters.
So let me give the commission some early stakeholder input: There is only one stakeholder for WRC-owned lands. That is the hunters of North Carolina. In 2018 we put $18 million in your budget through the purchase of guns, ammunition, and hunting supplies. You’ve heard of Pittman-Robertson, right? Oh yeah, we also pay a license fee and for a Game Lands Permit to hunt on those lands. Between the two, we contribute over $56 million to run the commission. Do other “stakeholders” pay either of those? I’m waiting for an answer.