Park fees, shorter deer seasons discussed at meeting

Despite a predicted $500,000 reduction in state funding, Kansas state park users shouldn’t expect fee increases within the next few years.

Secretary Robin Jennison talked about the reduction with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism commission Thursday in Bonner Springs. The proposed reduction in money from lottery earnings was recently announced by Gov. Sam Brownback as a way of improving the state’s overall budget. The legislature still must approve the reduced funding.

Jennison said while the loss of the funding would hurt the parks financially, the sale of state park permits have been good enough in recent years that continued general maintenance is expected. He predicted most state park users won’t notice any changes since last year.

He was not optimistic about the legislature reinstating the $500,000 if the state sees better financial times, saying the legislature has long been trying to get state parks to be self-sufficient. Going into this year, lottery funds from the state made up about 22 percent of the about $10 million annual state park budget.

Also at the meeting:

▪  Kevin Jones, Wildlife and Parks law enforcement chief, told the commission Kansas game wardens experienced 12 incidents that could have been related to coyote hunting during the firearms deer season last month. That included hunters using two-way radios or chasing animals with a vehicle. The report was requested several years ago when the commission was considering closing coyote hunting during the deer season so deer hunters couldn’t use coyote hunting as an excuse when caught hunting illegally.

Jones had no explanation as to why last month’s incidents were down from 46 reports during the 2013 firearms deer season. Gerald Lauber, commission chairman, asked for a similar report next year, but no mention was made of a regulation to stop coyote hunting during deer seasons.

▪  Lloyd Fox, Wildlife and Parks big-game program coordinator, said it appears the Kansas deer population still hasn’t recovered from several years of drought. He’s proposing reducing the number of antlerless permits, and/or hunting days available in units 2, 6, 8, 9, 10, 16 and 17 for the 2015-16 seasons. The reduction in hunting days would be within the January season for antlerless whitetails. The units mentioned would have a three-day January season. Unit 18 would again be closed for the January season.

Fox said all other deer seasons would probably follow current frameworks. The commission will vote on deer hunting regulations at their March meeting in Topeka.

▪  Commissioners drew for the seven special commissioners big-game permits that are awarded to conservation and shooting groups, to sell to raise money for conservation. No more than one of the permits can be for elk or antelope. Mike Miller, Wildlife and Parks, information chief, said $57,515 was raised from the sale of the permits last year. Last year a deer permit sold by Cloud County Ducks Unlimited sold for $10,500, the best of the year. The elk permit, sold by raffle by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, raised $1,660. The 2006 elk permit sold for $23,000.