Change needs to occur

STAFF WRITERMay 21, 2009 

Remember the sweeping changes voted in by the wildlife commissioners in March - mostly regarding deer hunting, Sunday bow hunting, an extra week of blackpowder season and freedom to use crossbows during archery season, among others?

They're not going to happen this fall, because of an obscure rule that allows a state regulation passed by a rule-making body to be delayed if the Rules Review Commission receives 10 letters of protest on a given rule.

This, after nine public hearings across the state, more than 40,000 comments in person, mailed and sent via the Internet. The proposals were then sent to the state Rules Review Commission (as are all state agency regulation changes) for review and were passed by the commission. However, because of the 10-letter rule, they now will be forwarded to the legislature for consideration in the fall. There, a proposal can die with the passing of a bill.

I asked for copies of the letters of dissent. There were 119 in all (a few had multiple signatures), and they fell into five distinct categories. There were just five letters written that were not in a template form. Four groups were form letters, essentially identical in verbiage.

One group of 28 appeared to come from bow hunters who don't like the crossbow proposal. Another group of 14 letters was in opposition to Sunday bow hunting. Hunters in the western District 7, 28 total, didn't like the extension of firearms season in their district. The largest group, 42, which copied a template posted by Speeddog.com (a houndsmen site), protested Sunday hunting and the prohibition of selling of foxes and coyotes taken under depredation permits to controlled hunting preserves.

"It's cumbersome at best," said Wes Seegars, chairman of the 19-member N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, at the March 13 commission meeting. "But, it's the rule of law we operate under and will continue to operate under until it changes."

Gordon Myers, executive director of the commission, said, "The way the current time frame works, it can derail the process for a year. Maybe we should consider our calendar ... we took action when the general assembly was already in session. I'm proud of the process. We had 40,000 comments, and the commission did a good job. We believe in the process."

The "process" Myers believes in is the public hearing and public comment process. (He sent word after our interview to make sure I understood he meant which part of the process.) Myers and Seegars were being polite.

The 10-letter rule is counterproductive. The proposals had been hashed out and discussed by the public and by the commissioners.

That a Cub Scout den can halt what thousands of man-hours produced is unfathomable. The fact that there were only five original letters is telling as well. Those five carry the most weight with me. The rest are nothing more than a petition, spoon fed to constituents from special interest group leaders. Copy, paste, sign, repeat.

mike.zlotnicki@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4518

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