We cited the wrong “influencers” wanting to change the dates of the 2023-24 duck season in Thursday’s column about the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
Internet references during the Zoom meeting the commission held to discuss postponing the opening day of duck season led us to believe that the commission had given in to pressure from internet social media sites. In this case, the commission is being pressured by private landowners who want duck season to start before Thanksgiving.
We had a long conversation with one of the main “influencers” on this matter on Thursday. He said opening duck season after Thanksgiving would prevent students from hunting ducks during the Thanksgiving break. He said this is important because most duck hunters are young. Duck hunting has probably the youngest demographic of the entire hunting spectrum and that the Commission was foolish in depriving young people of a hunting opportunity when hunter numbers are declining.
His points are valid, but they missed the point of Thursday’s column.
Game and Fish Committee members were fully aware of the arguments against opening the season after Thanksgiving when they voted in favor. They were also aware of the concerns of the people who own and manage a waterfowl habitat in Southeast Arkansas. Four commissioners own large amounts of waterfowl habitat. The “influencers” are their friends, colleagues and neighbors. We assume they held these discussions well before the commission set the dates for the 2023-24 duck season.
Commissioner Stan Jones of Walnut Ridge owns and operates a large waterfowl hunting operation in northeast Arkansas. Interestingly, he decided not to participate in the duck season redux.
“Look, I’m going to be commission chair next year,” Jones said. “I need to work with my colleagues, but I will not be involved in changing anything that we have already voted on.”
That’s the heart of the matter. The commission has already voted on the 2023-24 season frames. All information, pros and cons, was available to the commission before the vote. The season dates of the regulations are published. Many hunters have already booked hunts with outfitters based on this information, which also affects the general conditions for other waterfowl seasons.
In order to reach this decision, the Commission used a procedure. The Commission commended and supported the ongoing process, although some reservations were expressed at the time. Those commissioners should have announced their reservations at that point by voting “no” to the season framework.
In the 18 years that I have covered the Game and Fish Commission, the Commission has placed far too much emphasis on unanimity. They’re really great at passing anything by 7-0 votes. Split votes do not indicate disunity, partisanship or weakness, as the Commission has traditionally believed. It points out that the Commission is a consultative, democratic body. If all the votes are unanimous, you don’t need seven commissioners. You only need one.
Providing context and behind-the-scenes perspective, a former commissioner defended the commission for its upcoming reversal.
“I can’t remember the exact circumstances, but we had the same problems with polls,” said the former commissioner. “Sometimes her [polls] contrary to common sense. So we respected the polls, but we didn’t always let them make our decisions for us. Why have a commission when you let polls make your decisions?”
That is the point. The Commission has already decided. Now she’s being pressured to reverse her decision.
The framework for the 2023-24 duck season is for one year only. One cannot convincingly argue that opening duck season a week later will have an irreparable impact on hunting participation, license sales, or duck habitat availability for a year because landowners do not flood their forests and fields as early as usual. However, we recognize that private landowners who provide many thousands of acres of waterfowl habitat have more leverage than most as they should.
However, they should have exercised their influence before the commission voted on the 2023-24 duck season, not after.
On Thursday, we misidentified the commission’s conservation social scientist as Jennifer Feltz. Her name is Jessica Feltz.