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Other ‘influencers’ than internet have AGFC’s ear

by Bryan Hendricks | March 12, 2023 at 3:48 a.m.

We cited the wrong "influencers" in Thursday's column about the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission wanting to change the 2023-24 duck season dates.

References to the internet during the Zoom meeting that the Commission held to discuss rescheduling the opening day of duck season led us to assume that the commission had yielded to pressure from internet social media sites. In this case, the commission is being pressured by private landowners that want duck season to open before Thanksgiving.

We had a long talk with one of the primary "influencers" on Thursday about this matter. He said that opening duck season after Thanksgiving will prevent students from hunting ducks during the Thanksgiving break. He said this is important because most duck hunters are young. Duck hunting probably has the youngest demographic of the entire hunting spectrum, and that the commission was foolish to deprive young people of a hunting opportunity when hunter numbers are in decline.

His points are valid, but they missed the point of Thursday's column.

Members of the Game and Fish Commission were fully aware of the arguments against opening the season after Thanksgiving when they voted to do it. They were also fully aware of the concerns of people that own and manage waterfowl habitat in Southeast Arkansas. Four commissioners own large amounts of waterfowl habitat. The "influencers" are their friends, peers and neighbors. We assume they had these conversations long before the commission established the dates for the 2023-24 duck season.

Commissioner Stan Jones of Walnut Ridge owns and operates a major waterfowl hunting operation in Northeast Arkansas. Interestingly, he abstained from participating in the duck season redux.

"Look, I'm going to be commission chairman next year," Jones said. "I have to work with my fellow commissioners, but I'm not going to be a part of changing anything that we already voted on."

That is the heart of the matter. The commission already voted on the 2023-24 season frameworks. All information, pro and con, was available to the commission before it voted. The regulations season dates are published. Many hunters have already booked hunts with outfitters based on that information, which also affects frameworks for other waterfowl seasons.

To reach that decision, the commission employed a process. The commission praised and endorsed the process when it was in progress, even though a couple did express reservations at the time. Those commissioners should have registered their reservations at that time by voting "no" on the season framework.

For the 18 years I have covered the Game and Fish Commission, the commission has put far too much emphasis on unanimity. They are really big on passing everything with 7-0 votes. Split votes do not, as the commission traditionally believes, indicate disunity, factionalism or weakness. It indicates that the commission is a deliberative, democratic body. If every vote is unanimous, then you don't need seven commissioners. You only need one.

A former commissioner who provides context and perspective behind the scenes defended the commission for its impending reversal.

"I can't remember the exact circumstances, but we ran into the same problems with polls," the former commissioner said. "Sometimes they [polls] went contrary to common sense. So we respected the polls, but we did not always let them make our decisions for us. Why have a commission if you're going to let polls make your decisions?"

That's the point. The commission already made its decision. Now it is getting pressure to reverse its decision.

The 2023-24 duck season framework is in effect for only one year. One cannot argue persuasively that opening duck season a week later for one year will have an irreparable effect on hunting participation, license sales, or availability of duck habitat as a result of landowners not flooding their woods and fields as early as usual. We do, however, acknowledge that private landowners that provide many thousands of acres of waterfowl habitat have more influence than most, as they should.

However, they should have wielded their influence before the commission voted on the 2023-24 duck season, not after.


In Thursday, we mistakenly referred to the commission's conservation social scientist as Jennifer Feltz. Her name is Jessica Feltz.

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