Kelly Bostian: Wildlife department needs better system for rule changes
BY KELLY BOSTIAN Outdoors
Tuesday, January 08, 2013
1/08/13 at 6:21 AM
Go to Kelly Bostian's blog Original Print Headline: Rule changes need clarification
A public hearing Tuesday night in Oklahoma City on proposed fish and wildlife regulation changes should be formal but lively. Thus far the process has been faulty.
Among 31 proposals, the most controversial have to do with the capture and use of baitfish and a change to a one-buck limit for the combined muzzle-loader and modern rifle seasons.
The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation headquarters auditorium, 1801 N. Lincoln Blvd. Comments have been collected since Dec. 3. The comment period closes Friday.
After a few weeks of hearing from hunters on the white-tailed deer proposal, I'm convinced the Wildlife Commission's public rule-making system has a major flaw.
The system, especially with the online comment option, is open and available to a wide variety of people. But where it excels in expediency and availability it fails in thoroughness and accuracy.
The proposal to restrict deer hunting illustrates the point.
The department forwarded the proposal, but its biologists are not pushing for its passage.
Biologists said it is an idea forwarded on behalf of a growing constituency. That probably is true but there has been no qualitative poll of growing public opinion or even a formal petition from a particular constituent as far as the public knows.
This is a proposal to make a major change in the wildlife management philosophy of the state's most popular game species and it has no named sponsor.
The proposal seems to have been "floated out there" by the department to serve as its own public-opinion poll. But outside what has been written in newspapers, the public has scant information on this proposal, and the question as posted is far from a balanced way to collect public sentiment. A scientific public-opinion poll it is not.
On the public response section of the department's website, people can easily see the Section 800 regulatory language and see the proposed change exactly how it would appear in law. It's excellent information and it's factual, but it doesn't provide justification for the change or offer pros and cons. The only other information on the page is offered within the comments portion of the web page:
"The intent of this proposal is to reduce pressure on the buck segment of the herd in an attempt to improve buck age structure and antler quality across the state."
Because the words are on the department website, that seems to indicate that the Wildlife Department intends to do this if people do not object too strongly and believes passage of the rule would indeed constitute a valid attempt to strengthen the deer population.
I've heard from many hunters who assumed this to be true and formed their opinion and likely offered their input to the process based on that faulty, but reasonable, assumption.
The department's wildlife biologists are not pushing for this change, yet a debate is under way to make a major change in the way our Wildlife Department manages the deer populations. People are getting into the debate without accurate and full information.
Any proposed change to our fish and wildlife laws should be presented with two basic elements to ensure proper public process and decision-making easily understood by the general public.
1. Clear identification of what person(s) or what entity is forwarding the proposal, be it the commission, the department or a division thereof, or an individual or group seeking change through the proposal system.
2. Clear statement of the justification for the proposal, what it would accomplish, pros and cons, and what biological information (if applicable) makes it necessary and/or supports the theory.
This is the same wildlife department that spent years studying black bears before proposing a limited 20-bear archery hunt and did that for three years before proposing a somewhat longer season.
Yet, apparently based on increased hunter forum and blog talk and popularity of an idea among hunters, it has proposed a major philosophical change in how it manages the most popular game animal in the state.
What should concern people more at this point is not so much the intent of the proposal but the system that has us talking about it in the first place.