Wildlife and Parks commission takes up controversial duck season

Even if it’s 100 degrees outside, things may get hotter inside the air-conditioned Kansas Wetlands Education Center in Great Bend on Thursday, when the dates for this season’s duck seasons are set.

At a June 21 meeting in Kansas City, Kan., some members of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism commission got so worked up that voices were raised, fingers were pointed and the agency was repeatedly chastised by commissioners.

The topic that’s led to some of the most contentious commission discussions in memory? When to open duck season in Kansas’ southeast zone. The topic was almost equally controversial last year.

“We only have so many days that the (U.S.) Fish and Wildlife Service gives us, and we try to distribute it in that pretty wide geographical zone,” Gerald Lauber, commission chairman, said last week. “The more we accommodate late-season hunters, the more it takes away from early season hunters.”

Almost no debate has been held for the season dates on the state’s other three zones in many years.

The zone, which roughly runs down I-35 from Kansas City to El Dorado and southward, was designed by Wildlife and Parks, approved by the commission and enacted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last summer.

It was created at the request of southeast Kansas duck hunters who have long said their birds arrive later than in other parts of the state, where seasons open in late October.

Tom Bidrowski, Wildlife and Parks waterfowl biologist, said the department is suggesting opening the season Nov. 3, based on a sizable hunter survey this year. Lauber, of Topeka, agrees.

Commissioners Don Budd, of Kansas City, and Robert Wilson, of Pittsburg, think it should open one or two weeks later, respectively, so the mandated 74-day season can last longer into January.

Duck hunters from the northern reaches of the zone have been outspoken in favor of Nov. 3. Those further south, around the Neosho Wildlife Area, want a mid-November opener.

Bidrowski said federal regulations prohibit the boundaries of the zone can’t be changed until the 2016 season.

As well as voting on other waterfowl seasons, commissioners will also discuss:

•  Adjusting annual state park fees to $15 when purchased during vehicle registration or $25 when purchased through traditional vendors.

•  Continuing discussion on revising bait laws so anglers will be able to transport green sunfish and bluegill from any waters that do not contain aquatic nuisance species.

•  Per legislative mandate, discussing implementing a combination permit that allows the shooting of one antlered and one antlerless whitetail deer. It’s hoped the combination permit will encourage more hunters to shoot does.

Thursday’s meeting will be held at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center, 592 NE K-156, Great Bend.

The afternoon session will run 1:30 – 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. until completion. Public comment will be welcomed at both sessions.

For more information go to www.kdwpt.state.ks.us or call 620-672-5911.