Thursday, March 10, 2005
Bill Cochran's Outdoors: The good, bad and ugly of the General Assembly
Bill Cochran's Outdoors
- Virginia’s hunting totals produce mixed results
- A good trade: Virginia trout for Kentucky elk
- Forget the odds-makers; Salem’s John Crews believes he can win the Bassmaster Classic.
- The good and bad of the 2012 saltwater fishing season
- Column archive
Bill's Field Reports
- Virginia General Assembly goes soft on outdoor issues
- Quail Unlimited calls it quits
- Field reports archive
The 2005 Virginia General Assembly had some high and low points for outdoor sportsmen. A high was more money for parks; a low was the failure to give better protection to menhaden, an important baitfish in the Chesapeake Bay. Here are my comments on several key issues:
>Lawmakers relieved some of the financial pressure on the state park system by giving it an additional $4.6 million in operating money. The funding was overdue. Virginia parks have been on a starvation diet; yet, they have managed to do an excellent job, winning a national award in 2002 as the best managed park system in the nation. Think what they could have accomplished had they been fully funded.
>The effort to get more game wardens patrolling Smith Mountain Lake is a worthy one. The 20,000-acre impoundment has the highest accident rate of any body of water in the state; in fact, 20 percent of the statewide total. Three people were killed last year.
Even so, it is wrong for the General Assembly to micromanage the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries by telling the agency that it must have at least one warden patrolling the lake during daylight hours of the boating season. Lawmakers did that when they passed with little opposition SB 1197, introduced by Stephen Newman, R-Forest.
DGIF must have the freedom to apply its warden force where it is needed. Isn’t it more important for wardens to double up on patrols during busy weekends even if they have to pull back on midweek patrols to accomplish this? Won’t there by emergencies when all wardens in a region must be dispatched to some hot spot? Aren’t their times when you need to get a warden on the lake after dark, even if it means removing one from daytime hours?
As with most mandate bills, this one comes with no funding for the warden force, which means it has potential of doing more harm than good, especially with the force down about 25 positions.
>Waterfowl hunting has become more expensive. Duck hunters will have to purchase a $9.75 state duck stamp in addition to their $15 federal stamp and state hunting license. There is a state stamp currently in place, but its purchase is optional and few are sold.
The mandatory stamp should provide additional funds for habitat improvements, but some sportsmen have threatened to give up waterfowl hunting because it is becoming so expensive, considering license fees and the cost of non-toxic shot. Erosion from the ranks of waterfowl hunters isn’t likely to happen on a large scale, but the sport can ill afford to lose any supporters. If the state stamp causes some hunters to hang it up, its benefits will be marginal.
Money from the state stamp, after administrative costs, will be divided between non-prophet organizations, such as Ducks Unlimited, and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. The bill did not receive a single vote of opposition in either the House or Senate.
This is the second new license/stamp established by the General Assembly. The other is the new crossbow license, which I covered in last week’s column. The governor signed the crossbow bill this week; thus, the DGIF can start activating it at its March 24 meeting.
>Should a state game warden or other state employee be able to express opinions on matters of public concern to state or local elected officials? Should he or she be able to report evidence of corruption, impropriety and gross mismanagement without fear of retaliation? General Assembly members think so.
A bill, HB 2872, that provides for a healthier forum between state employees and elected officials passed the House and Senate without a negative vote. It was considered something of a mystery bill, but it certainly fits the boot at the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries where wardens say they’ve been robbed of their right to express matters.
One game warden told me, “You would not believes some of the intimidation tactics.”
>Outdoor sportsmen suffered a major loss when a bill that would move the management of menhaden from the General Assembly to the Marine Resources Commission was defeated. It had received strong support from the Coastal Conservation Association, and was a biter defeat for that organization of sport fishermen.
Passed in its place was a bill some sought to sell as protecting menhaden, which are a major food fish for striped bass and other species. But that bill was a ruse of commercial fishing interests. The Newport News Daily Press has called it “nonsense” and said in an editorial that the governor should not sign it.
>"How much for this 10-point buck?” That my be the cry of the auctioneer in the future when you attend a duck, turkey, elk, grouse or Friends of NRA banquet. In addition to the traditional bidding for wildlife prints, bronze sculptures and guns, HB 1827 gives nonprofit organizations the right to sell wildlife mounts.
Never mind that the bill passed without a single negative vote; never mind that many fund-raising groups do an outstanding job of promoting wildlife conservation and hunting and shooting sports. I think this measure opens the way to abuse and is a step backwards to commercialization of wildlife. The motivation for hunting a trophy buck should not be to sell it at the next wildlife fund-raiser. If you don’t kill that buck yourself, maybe you don’t merit having it hanging on your wall.
>Outdoor sportsmen face stiffer penalties for hunting and boating while intoxicated. SB 1149 increases the penalty from a Class 2 to Class 1 misdemeanor for hunting while under the influence of alcohol or a narcotic drug. The measure passed without opposition and covers hunting with bows and crossbows as well as firearms.
Also passed without a negative vote was HB 1756 which provides for a manslaughter charge of anyone who operates a watercraft while intoxicated and unintentionally causes the death of another person.
>People who dump a nonindigenous aquatic nuisance species into the water of Virginia will be subject to a Class 6 felony charge, thanks to the success of HB 2029. Unfortunately, the barn door was closed too late to keep snakehead fish from being released in the Potomac River. In the future, if you import, possess, transport, sell, purchase, give, receive or introduce -- you get the idea -- nuisance aquatic species, you will be in big trouble.
Trouble is, catching someone doing that is difficult. Perhaps the bill’s greatest worth is educating people that they shouldn’t dump their aquarium pet into public water when they get tired of it, because it can cause untold harm to native species.
The bill includes an exemption for a person who catches a snakehead fish if the individual has lawfully taken the fish, killed it, and reported his actions to the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
>Several bills were passed that help ease the controversy between tidewater riparian landowners who want to control the waterfowl hunting along their waterfront and duck hunters who believe they have the right to use floating blinds. A headline in the Richmond Times-Dispatch said, “Flap over waterfowl put to rest.” That’s a bit too optimistic as to what really happened, but progress has been made.
A number of old regulations that govern waterfowl hunting and blind use were repealed and a better definition of stationary blinds was drafted. A ban against floating blinds use in five counties was removed. Some reasonable compromises were made.