BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MONTROSE – The Lee County Conservation Board continues to take a beating at the hands of the area duck hunters.
At Tuesday’s meeting of the board, duck hunters were standing room only again and peppered the board and LCCB Director Nathan Unsworth with questions on all aspects of the conservation board activities from the on-going annual or permanent blind issue, to food plots seeding, to uniforms and even dust in the rafters of the Heron Bend Conservation Center.
The board also went into a 20 minute executive session under Chapter 21 section 5.c of the Iowa Code which provides for the closed session to discuss imminent litigation. No action was taken out of the closed session.
During the regular session about 10 hunters signed up to speak and Rusty Robbins of West Point, who’s been spearheading a campaign over the past few weeks for more clarity in the proceedings of the board, asked several questions of the board.
Robbins gave 30-day notice that he wanted on the agenda to discuss reopening the Indian Path park at Skunk River and taking no fishing signs down on certain conservation properties. He also requested a copy of the boards bylaws. Robbins asked about issues of funding, camps for kids and said the department should dress appropriately and the building needed to be cleaned better.
“The duck hunters are not going to let you shove it to us. If we have to play the game, we’re gonna play the game. So get ready,” Robbin said.
Fred Hoenig, a certified public accountant in Fort Madison, asked when applications for the conservation board are due and when they come up for a renewal. He also asked where fees for camps go.
Unsworth said applications can be turned in any time of year to the Lee County Auditor’s office and those are given to the County Board of Supervisors to review prior to appointments. Appointments happen at the beginning of the year as each board member serves a staggered five year term with one board member rotating off each year.
He also said the money from fees goes to the conservation foundation fund. Hoenig asked why the taxpayers foot the bill for the staff at the conservation events and the revenues go to the foundation and not back to the taxpayers.
LCCB Board Chair Harry Sylvester said the funds go into the foundation and then are spent by the foundation on conservation efforts which come back to the public.
“It’s a full circle,” Sylvester said.
Pat Armstrong said the new rules for boat blinds will cause accidents and death.
“I dare one of you to go out on that river in a boat blind. You get an east wind and the water can be as flat as concrete, but it turns from the west and you’ve got 3 or 4 foot chops, with a boat filled with frozen decoys and people…you’re only going to have so much boat showing out of the water and then you’re gonna take on waves and water. This just doesn’t make sense,”
Armstrong said more people die hunting from hypothermia and drownings than guns and going to boat blinds is only going to increase those odds.
“Right there are the facts. You guys are gonna get someone killed out there on this river and when it happens I hope you all freakin’ think about it,” he said.
Ed Kirchner told the board said he spoke with the head of the Fish and Wildlife department at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources who said they had no authority over Pool 19 because it’s all private property.
“The information you’re using to make your decisions is wrong,” Kirchner said. “You were lied to by the insurance company with regard to permanent blinds and your information on Pool 19 is wrong.”
But Clint Oldfield, the Lee County Park Ranger, said even though the land is owned privately by the county board, the property is still considered public property by state code and the rules would default back to DNR rules which are in opposition to permanent blinds.
At several moments in the meeting, the hunters and advocates in attendance got in yelling matches with the board wanting to know why they were changing policy on the duck blinds. Two Lee County Sheriff’s deputies were in attendance at the meeting as during a recent exchange on the hunting changes board members were hit with wadded up paper and brushed by one hunter on the way out of the building. Several had to be escorted out by Oldfield.
Originally, the board decided to do away with the permanent blinds because hunters were not getting their blinds out of the water in time each year and despite, according to Sylvester, working with hunters for the past five years to try to find rules and policies that benefit all parties, the rules kept being violated and the board made the change.
Although that issue wasn’t brought up in response to the repeated questions as to why the policy was changed, several hunters claimed that the board’s motivation was to turn all the property it owns along the county into a habitat refuge with no hunting or fishing allowed.
No action was taken as a result of the public hearings.