The Hutchinson News
GREAT BEND - Veteran waterfowl hunter Andy Fanter is hoping to gain momentum after placing a billboard on the outskirts of Great Bend.
In a state where only two percent of the land is public, he wants to make sure that there are ample opportunities for everyone to hunt - and that everyone gets a say in how Kansas hunting laws are managed.
"Don't let private interests select hunting season dates - attend Wildlife and Parks Commission meetings," his billboard reads. The sign also has photos of a mallard duck and a Canada goose and an email address - email@example.com - for people to contact him.
Fanter is invested in his cause. The sign, along with a year rental that started in mid-October, cost him $2,500.
"I have nothing to lose and nothing to gain," he said Monday.
Fanter's public statement along Highway 281 near Great Bend stems from a Kansas Department of Wildlife Parks and Tourism commission meeting in August where a public hearing was held to set the 2013 waterfowl seasons.
Waterfowl biologist Tom Bidrowski gave a presentation and recommendation on how to set the dates this year. He said season dates are chosen due to habitat, migration and hunter preference in specific areas.
"Our objective is to provide the greatest opportunities for Kansas waterfowl hunters," Bidrowski told the commission, all avid hunters, during the August meeting.
In the southeast zone, he suggested that duck-hunting dates be a little earlier, as the large public hunting spots, Marais des Cygnes and Neosho Wildlife Area, are shallow-water areas that typically are frozen over by late season. With a certain number of days allowed federally, depending on the season, Bidrowski suggested that Nov. 2 to Jan. 5 and Jan. 18 to Jan. 26 be chosen because of harvest possibilities and hunter input. A survey showed that more hunters preferred an earlier opening day, either early November or late October. Several in attendance signed a petition, as well, asking for an earlier season.
Commissioner Don Budd said he heard from hunters who wanted a later start. But Fanter contends those people - including Budd - are hunting private land where water areas would be deeper and not freeze over like the public areas that many hunters could frequent. Budd suggested the 74-day season to go straight through, from mid-November through late January, which was approved.
Meanwhile, in the late zone for Canada geese, Bidrowski recommended that the season run Oct. 26 through Nov. 3 and Nov. 13 to Feb. 16. Bidrowski noted there is an opportunity for good hunting in the late season, which was why he suggested moving the date.
Commissioner Dr. Roger Marshall, a Great Bend doctor, however, also suggested the board go against staff recommendation and keep the season early. He said he and his friends hunt geese during sandhill crane season, as well, and keeping it early would allow the crane season and the second part of the goose season to start on the same day - Nov. 6. He also thought the earlier season helped farmers with fall crops in the field.
"I think the farmers will be awfully upset if we aren't out there defending their crops," Marshall said during the meeting via conference call, adding that "it just doesn't make any sense at all to me."
Marshall said he didn't like the biologist's alternatives, and Budd told him to make his own alternatives.
"We can do that; we can do whatever we want," Budd said, then laughed.
Marshall said Monday that his contention is that most hunters go out on opening day and hunt a few weeks, then quit. By late season, "all but the hardiest of hunters have given it up."
Plus, he said, keeping the seasons the same as other waterfowl allows hunters to hunt all species.
Fanter, however, said Kansas is missing out on an economic windfall by not allowing the season to run seven days later in February.
"It has become apparent to many that this commission wishes to serve private interests in hunting and not the public," Fanter said in a statement to the commissioner earlier this month. "Biologist recommendations have been ignored and petitions from hunters have been ignored.
"Tourism revenues are affected from lost lodging and meal revenues in small towns."
Fanter graduated from Baker University with a degree in wildlife and fisheries biology, but eventually went to work for his family's business and lives in Great Bend. He hunts waterfowl more than 70 days a year, half on public and half on private land.
Fanter presented his views and information on the sign at the last commission meeting this month. He plans to discuss the issue again during the January meeting in Winfield and hopes to garner more support by that time.
His goal is to facilitate more discussion and get more people at meetings in an effort to make sure the public has a say and not just commissioners.
"I want more people to come in general," he said. "Four or five people are there, typically, voicing their opinion. If you want things to change, then you have to be involved to try to make that happen."
Marshall said he was glad to see Fanter involved and concerned.
"I am glad he is raising awareness," he said, adding that he would like people to participate in KDWPT surveys to help set the season dates.