Our real fish and wildlife experts not consulted on power grab by KY Senate | Opinion

The Kentucky legislature let the chickens escape from the coop this week. Or maybe you could say they let the fox into the henhouse. Most assuredly Senate Bill 3, which passed the upper house this week, is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. And we all know that farmers and ranchers don’t like wolves messing with their livestock.

In a move that defies logic the Senate passed a bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Jason Howell of Murray this week that would move the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife under the direction of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. This would almost be akin to moving Social Services under the Department of Corrections. This bill gives control of Fish and Wildlife to the Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner. The Department was previously under the Tourism Cabinet with members nominated by sportsmen of Kentucky’s nine districts, with the Governor appointing a member to the Wildlife Commission from these nominees. The move by the Senate is purely a power grab.

The legislators who voted on this bill would probably not recognize a tufted titmouse from a ruffed grouse. They may recognize a Louisville Cardinal or a Kentucky Wildcat. Senator Damon Thayer certainly recognizes Governor Andy Beshear and his hunting must be for the Governor.

The Governor submits nominees to the Senate and it is here they must be confirmed. Five districts now sit vacant as the Senate has not confirmed any of the nominees submitted by the Governor. Under Senate Bill 3 the omnipotent Agriculture Commissioner with all his wisdom can make any appointment to the Commission with no confirmation needed.

On a federal level we have separate Departments for Agriculture and the Interior. Each has a different mission. Pittman-Robertson funds which are combined with monies from Kentucky hunters and fishermen and provide most of the support the Fish and Wildlife Department and enables it to stand alone. Without this support there would be very little wildlife conservation in Kentucky or anywhere else in our country. No other state in the United States of America puts their Fish and Wildlife divisions under the agriculture umbrella.

Often times wildlife conservation efforts are diametrically opposed to agricultural efforts. One of the stated goals of the Kentucky Farm Bureau which has great influence on agriculture in the state of Kentucky is a reduction of species such as whitetail deer, elk, wild turkey, and bears. Collision with these animals is a big chunk of Farm Bureau expenditures as is crop destruction and one could see an agriculture slanted board opening seasons much more liberal than conservation efforts would call for example. Sportsmen rely on farms for their outings and agriculture should be taken into consideration but not as the primary focus of conservation. Conservation efforts are also ongoing to open up free running waters such as the Green River but again this could be at odds with an agriculture community looking for water for irrigation.

Interestingly the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission of which Senator Thayer has strong ties to will be placed under the Department of Agriculture as well. One caveat though, they are independent enough to instruct the Agriculture Department of their intentions and no oversight is needed from the Department.

I have long advocated for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife to form another advisory group made up of sportsmen with boots on the ground from such organizations as the League of Kentucky Sportsmen, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Trout Unlimited, Quail Forever, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Nature Conservancy, Wild Turkey Federation and many others.

The present model is open to politics but it is better than what is posed in Senate Bill 3. Most appointed commissioners are not as intimately involved in the natural world as outdoors men and women who are out there in fields and on water almost daily and these folks have information that is vital to wildlife conservation efforts. If the Senate truly wanted to reform the process let it be strictly a vote by sportsmen in each district. Or in reference to the above advisory model a representative from each outdoor group.

Those who love the outdoors here in Kentucky don’t need the label Republican or Democrat. They are just Kentuckians that are passionate about a way of life that provides so much satisfaction. Their voices were not even consulted before this bill was brought to the floor. In the name of common sense it is time to listen to them.

Spring is here and right now it is a bit too cold to dip my toes into moving mountain streams. But I sure wish I could. In the outing I could sit on a big rock and reflect on the waters as they ripple by. Maybe then I could let my mind clear of the travesty being proposed in Frankfort and reflect on the things that truly matter in life.

Mark Reese
Mark Reese

Mark Reese is retired from the UK Cooperative Extension Service and lives on a small farm in Estill County where he raises sheep, and writes a weekly outdoor column for the Estill County Citizens Voice and Times.