KRC Comments On Proposed Sandhill Crane Hunt Regulation

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KRC Comments On Proposed Sandhill Crane Hunt Regulation  Posted: August 9, 2011

August 1, 2011

Ms. Rose Mack
Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources
Arnold L. Mitchell Building
#1 Sportsman?s Lane
Frankfort, Kentucky 40601

By email

Dear Ms. Mack:

These comments are submitted by the Kentucky Resources Council, Inc., a non-profit environmental advocacy organization providing legal and technical assistance without charge to low-income individuals, community groups and organizations, on a range of issues including air and water pollution, waste management, utility policy, and natural resources conservation.

KRC members include numerous individuals who hunt and fish in the Commonwealth and who possess licenses to do so.

Proposed regulation 301 KAR 2:228 would establish a hunting season for the Eastern Population of Sandhill Cranes, authorizing the first legal hunting of this population of sandhill cranes in nearly 100 years.

The Board of Directors of the Kentucky Resources Council, after consideration of the proposed hunt plan and the concerns raised by the International Crane Foundation regarding both the Kentucky plan and the underlying Flyway Plan upon which it rests, determined to oppose the proposed Kentucky hunt plan.

Prior to addressing the scientific concerns raised by the ICF, there are several issues related to the manner in which KDFWR has advocated for the hunt plan, much of it before the Commission had even determined whether to approve a hunting season for the EP of sandhill cranes.

KRC is deeply troubled at the manner in which the Department has conducted itself during this process. Having long advocated on behalf of the KDFWR before the legislature, KRC had never, prior to this issue, had an opportunity to observe the manner in which the KDFWR management interacts with the various constituencies within and outside of the hunting community. What I observed during this process concerned and saddened me greatly.

What is apparent from a review of the correspondence both within the agency and between the agency and the public, is that the agency had, long before any formal opportunity to review and comment on the hunt plan, made up its collective mind to go forward with the plan. In order to help advance the plan, the agency, directly and by proxy, recast the narrow question of whether to extend hunting opportunities to include this bird population, into a referendum on the future of hunting in Kentucky and an assault on hunting by “antis,” inflamed the various conservation interests, and poisoned the atmosphere of what should have been and should be a conversation among friends.

The damage that the KDFWR has caused within the conservation community by mischaracterizing any opposition to this specific proposal as being “anti-hunting” and any opposition to this hunt as being a threat to “our hunting heritage,” will continue to be felt for some time, and the harm caused to the agency’s relationships with conservation interests and the agency’s reputation greatly outweighs any benefit that the hunting opportunity will provide to a very limited number of hunters.

The email correspondence received by the agency reflects that much of the comment submitted was based not on a spontaneous grassroots interest in hunting this bird population, but in response to agency-initiated and agency-approved solicitations to speak out in order to defend hunting rights against those who would eliminate them. Reflective of the efforts of the agency to cast this proposal as a referendum on the future of hunting is the email from Commissioner Gassett to the various sportsmen’s groups (including the Kentucky Conservation Coalition) actively soliciting support for the agency hunt plan:

"[I]t is up to the leaders in the hunting community (you folks) to have hunters show up to speak for it on Friday. The science is solid, the hunt plan is sound, and we have received several thousand emails of support, but a physical presence, either for or against can be a powerful motivator. Time for all hunters to either step up and
support our hunting heritage or sit by and watch it erode. What is your choice?"

May 31, 2011 Email from Com’r Gassett (Italics added).

A similar theme was actively promoted by the Commissioner in an April 29, 2011 letter to “Sportsmen and Sportswomen”, which solicited support, informing the recipient that

"Representatives from anti-hunting and animal protection groups will be attending these meetings to oppose this hunting season. Therefore, it is imperative that supporters of hunting, fishing, and trapping are present to voice their support as well. Regardless of which game and fish species you are passionate about, protecting our hunting and fishing heritage is important to us all."

The distortion of the issue from one of extending existing hunting opportunities to a new population that had not been hunted for nearly 100 years, into one in which any criticism of the hunt plan or the manner in which the Department has handled this issue was an assault on “our hunting heritage,” is a theme that the agency actively advanced, and in doing so created hard feelings and further tension among outdoor enthusiasts and conservation groups that should be allied in seeking to manage both game and non-game species and habitat.

The Department’s active effort to miscast the issue is apparent in the “fact sheet” prepared by the agency for use by sportsmen’s groups. The last bullet point in the “fact sheet” states:

"All hunters need to act! Even if you have no desire to hunt sandhill cranes, our hunting heritage is under constant threat. It is time for the sportsmen and women of the Commonwealth to unite!Call, write, or email the KDFWR and express your support for a crane
Season and help protect our hunting heritage!"

April 14, 2011 Email from Karen Waldrop to LKS members and POS agents.

The casting of any criticism of the Department’s hunt plan as merely the complaints of “anti-hunters” is also apparent in the correspondence from the Commissioner to staff:

"I also need a “generic” letter to the Legislators explaining what we are proposing, the process we have gone thru, that hunters are supportive but the antis are working against it, etc. etc."

April 8, 2011 Email from Gassett to Brunjes.

That the agency used the supposed threat that opposition to this hunt posed to “our hunting heritage” theme to drum up support for the hunt plan is clear. That it did so in a manner that sought to manipulate public opinion is likewise clear. In response to an op-ed by a hunter in the Harlan Daily Enterprise, opposing the sandhill crane season proposal, an internal agency staff memo said

"We need to start controlling our message. Any suggestions on how to do this? Creative responses to stuff like this? We can’t let blatant misinformation go unchallenged. Tailor messages to the audience. Harlan people probably want less science and more hunting tradition stuff. Use bear season as a comparison. Thoughts?"

Gassett email April 26, 2011.

The Department’s cynicism about the intelligence or interests of Harlan Countians, and the intentional tailoring of the message as one of “hunting tradition stuff” in order to manipulate public opinion, is apparent.

In addition to miscasting the issue as a referendum on the future of hunting in Kentucky, the Commissioner approved the distribution of action alerts by others that included the same theme, despite the Department’s receipt of numerous emails from hunters expressing opposition to or ambivalence regarding the hunt plan.

A snapshot of the correspondence sent to the agency in response to solicitations, illuminates that the agency succeeded in poisoning the discussion and converting the question of whether to advance this hunt proposal, into a referendum on the future of all hunting. One in particular stands out:

"Anti hunters aka scum sucking PETA and the anti gun owners are a waste of fresh air! … For them to stop me from doing my lifes passion they will have to pry my hunting weponds from my cold dead hands."

Fred Frost, April 14, 2011.

A recurrent theme in many of the comments received by the agency was that the respondents supported the plan because they supported hunting in general, but had no interest in hunting this bird population. More significantly, although the Department actively sought to spin the issue as being pro- or anti-hunting, the Department was aware of concerns that a number of hunters had voiced regarding the proposal. One in particular should have been taken to heart by the agency:

"I am a waterfowler, attend your quarterly meeting with my wife, and hunt waterfowl in Ky and ND and IN. I’ve hunted cranes and swans. I attended the Louisville townhall meeting and heard the opposition. As a waterfowler I don’t think there is much to be gained by legalizing cranes and lots to be lost. Few cranes will be shot and only by a few hunters who can get on the land where they rest and eat.

We have great relations with the nonhunting public. Lets not mess it up for little gain. Pick your fights wisely."

Lou Komis, Crestwood Kentucky, February 25, 2011 e-mail.

Three other themes repeatedly surface in the comments of those supporting the hunt plan, each as mistaken as the next. The first is that there is a need to hunt in order to control the health of the EP sandhill crane population, when there is no management need to do so. The second is that the EP sandhill crane population must be controlled in order to reduce or prevent crop damage. The last, which sadly was reflected in statements made by several Commissioners during their deliberation on the hunt plan, is the theme that only those who purchase hunting and fishing licenses contribute to Kentucky’s fish and wildlife resources, and their comments should be given greater weight. In truth, KDFWR receives monies through other non-consumptive revenue sources, both in cash and in kind.

In closing, this process has not been one of the Department’s finer moments. The attempt to rally support for and to deflect criticism of an agency-driven proposal by miscasting the issue as one where opposition to the plan was “anti-hunting” and constituted an assault on “our hunting heritage,” and the dismissive attitude towards scientific concerns and criticisms raised by the International Crane Foundation, do not reflect well on the agency and certainly do not advance the goal of a broad-based constituency for the enhancement and management of fish and wildlife resources that includes hunters and non-hunters alike.

The email from Gary Turney after receiving a Kentucky Conservation Coalition action alter, summarized well the frustration that many in the conservation community feel regarding the miscasting of the issues:

"I am an avid hunter, a certified and active HE instructor in KY, and typically a strong supporter of KDFWR….I take strong exception to the e-mail that I just received from the kycoalition which insinuates that only anti-hunters are against this new season, and that as a hunter, I must support this proposal in order to preserve my long term
right to hunt. I am offended by the implication that any one who opposes this proposal is an anti-hunter! The very reason that I oppose this season is concern that opening this very limited and new species hunting in KY may backfire as anti-hunters use this as a platform to gain support from those that are currently neutral to hunting, and thus increase the number of persons that become opposes to hunting in general. Recognize that some hunters may be opposed to this based on the same long term objectives of preserving our right to hunt."

April 13, 2011 e-mail from Gary Turney to KDFWR.

As to the science behind the hunt plan, the Kentucky Resources Council, Inc. under separate cover, will transmit two documents authored by the International Crane Foundation, and requests that the Department provide specific, affirmative consideration of each point raised in those comments. Specifically, and without limitation, KRC requests that Department provide specific response, with appropriate scientific support and documentation, to the concerns expressed in the May 2011 Comments from the ICF on the Kentucky plan and on the Management Plan for the EP of Sandhill Cranes, since the KDFWR bases much of the justification for the Kentucky hunt proposal on that Management Plan. Additionally, KRC requests that the agency respond specifically to each concern raised by the ICF in the “Additional Comments” provided by the ICF during this comment period, and provide scientific data to support each response.

In closing, KRC respectfully requests that the agency withdraw the proposed regulation establishing a hunting season for EP sandhill cranes, and that it begin the process of rebuilding the bridges burned and the relationships fractured by this hunt plan and the unfortunate and divisive manner in which the agency sought to advance the plan. A golden opportunity to step back from this controversial proposal and to create positive dialogue within the conservation community in which to collectively develop a management plan reflecting each of the regional management plan objectives, including meaningful public involvement on whether to extend hunting to include this population, will have been missed otherwise.



Tom FitzGerald
By Kentucky Resources Council on 08/09/2011 5:32 PM
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