BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MONTROSE – An uproar from county duck hunters spilled into the Lee County supervisors meeting Tuesday morning.
A conversation at the end of Tuesday’s Lee County Board of Supervisor’s meeting, initiated by supervisor Matt Pflug, extended the meeting and prompted a discussion between supervisors, the hunters and Lee County Conservation Board chairman Harry Sylvester and LCCB Director Nathan Unsworth.
Rusty Robbins, a duck hunter from West Point, addressed the board at the beginning of the meeting during the public input section and voiced his concern about the new guidelines that will make permanent blinds a thing of the past after the 2018 hunting season.
The issue has been highly emotional, including some profanity-laced tirades by hunters who were escorted from a LCCB board meeting last Monday. Hunters risk losing generations of traditions of hunting, and have a concern for safety on the Mississippi River in boat blinds. Board members voted to change the permanent blind guidelines to coincide with Iowa Department of Natural Resources due to a group of hunters not following the guidelines on getting the blinds out of the water.
Pflug asked Unsworth to elaborate on the decision to end the permanent blinds.
Unsworth outlined the system implemented five years ago with people getting permanent blinds through a lottery system. He said there were issues getting the blinds out on time so the board revisited the issue last year with a three-year contract. The past year there were still some issues with hunters following guidelines, so they board voted to phase out the permanent blinds and allow boat blinds only.
“At that point we had some feedback from hunters that it wasn’t enough time so we decided to give them another year to prepare for that change,” Unsworth said.
“Here’s the problem: these guys aren’t duck hunters,” said Pat Armstrong, a Fort Madison hunter. “They only give us two weeks to get those out. If you don’t quit hunting two weeks before, you won’t get out. You’re gonna get frozen in back there. But the Ortho pocket, I’ve been hunting since ’55 there and I’ve built a lot of blinds out there and you build a good one, it will last five years.”
Sylvester said hunters have always been told they can call the board and ask for an extension. He said the board has met with duck hunters over the years to come up with guidelines that work for everyone.
“But no matter what we come up with, they didn’t follow the rules,” Sylvester said.
Supervisor Ron Fedler asked if there were any federal or state guidelines that govern the issue.
Sylvester said the board went against the Iowa Department of Natural Resources recommendations.
“We decided we would try to work with permanent blinds and the DNR didn’t even want us to do that. Every year we’d meet with duck hunters and try to work out guidelines and things that would work for everyone and they just wouldn’t follow the rules.”
Sylvester pointed to occasions when the conservation district had to go down and pull out blinds that had broken loose and floated down river.
“We’ve had maintenance people go down the river and pull blinds out of the river and we don’t have the manpower to do that. So we’re just looking at going back to the DNR rules on the river.”
Pflug asked if there wasn’t a way to reach a compromise with the hunters. “Listening to what they’re saying, going forward is there a way – with these guys, is there chance to sit around and try to work out something.”
Sylvester left the door open to possibly taking one more shot at working with the hunters.
“By extending the permanent blinds a year, that gives us time to do stuff like that,” he said.
Unsworth reminded the supervisors that per state code, the conservation board has authority to set their own policy.
“Public input is the time for these folks to bring issues to us and then for us to go back to and do our homework and make recommendations,” he said.
Fedler said he wanted to look into what authority the board had to intervene.
“As far as rulings, we need to check into whether we have any authority at all, which I don’t think we do, to overrule their decisions.”
After the meeting, when asked if the decision by the LCCB was a done deal, Unsworth hesitated and said, “We’ll see.”