Just when you think an issue has been decided, and is over with, along comes an expert, or a group of experts, to find fault with the process and criticize the outcome.
A recent commentary written by a group of retired wildlife biologists criticized the S.C. legislature for passing a bill that set new hunting seasons and bag limits for wild turkeys. The retied biologists expressed dismay that the legislature would seemingly ignore the recommendations of wildlife professionals, and the science they employ and provide.
The group cited a study that was conducted for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources by a prominent researcher from Louisiana State University. The study was the basis of a DNR report on wild turkey resources, with recommendations on seasons and bag limits, that was presented to lawmakers for consideration. I considered the DNR proposals extreme.
The Senate and the House held subcommittee and committee meetings on the DNR recommendations. DNR staff members, National Wild Turkey Federation officials and hunters like myself testified to the committees. None of the retired biologists testified at the hearings.
Prior to the Senate subcommittee meeting, I spoke with my local senator about concerns I had with the DNR report and some possible alternatives. We talked about the system in our state for passing natural resource laws. The senator told me that they rely on the professionals for information, but the system only works if both sides are sincere.
I knew from personal communication with DNR biologists over several years that they had already formed a firm opinion on a new opening date for the wild turkey season. This opinion was expressed to me before Act 41, and before any supporting data had been collected. I wrote about that in two separate articles prior to the DNR report being presented to the legislature.
Dr. John Rheney of Orangeburg also wrote an article that he had been told by DNR, prior to Act 41, that they favored a later opening date in April. He also pointed out that no studies or supporting data had been done at the time.
No study and subsequent report can be considered sincere when the outcome has already been decided years ahead of time. And one study on one site in South Carolina, along with a predetermined outcome, cannot be considered good science. In fact, it is bad science, and bad science always loses.
State legislators in the Senate and House questioned everyone who testified. I think it was also their duty to question the report. One senator pointed out that the study only considered hunting’s impact on wild turkey numbers, without considering other limiting factors, such as predators and habitat degradation.
It was also pointed out that the study focused on gobbling frequency, nesting chronology, and hunting, but didn’t even mention turkey breeding activity. Early season breeding activity was the primary reason DNR used to recommend delaying the season opening date into early April.
I testified in the House subcommittee meeting that both the Senate and House bills were similar, and offered a bag-limit restriction on gobblers in the first 10 days of the season. Those bag-limit restrictions would accomplish practically the same result as a delay in the opening date without diminishing the opportunity for hunters. I saw nods of approval throughout the chamber.
After the bill was passed, I was pleased to see a press release from the National Wild Turkey Federation praising the legislature for passing a bill that restructured the wild turkey hunting season dates and limits, and was closer to the DNR proposal for the Upstate. Other published articles in various outlets also reported favorably on the new regulations.
Unlike the group of retired wildlife biologists, I took part in the process. It was enlightening to see the legislative process at work. I think our system is a good one. It can give change when it is needed but keeps a check and balance on extremes in management decisions by wildlife professionals, who don’t have to answer to the people.