BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – In what can only be considered bucking the trend of recent meetings between duck hunters and the Lee County Conservation Board, a proposal was submitted Tuesday night that was met with appreciation and respect.
Scott Umthun, a representative of a duck blind committee consisting of about 10 people, said the group met for about three and half months with the goal of coming up with a set of rules that could govern private blinds on property owned by the county.
The conservation board said last fall that they were going to eliminate permanent blinds by 2019 due to repeated violation of duck blind regulations. That decision ran afoul with many duck hunters in the area, who then descended on the LCCB meetings, and, at several points, those meetings became very heated. At one meeting in particular, several hunters had to be removed by conservation staff, after hunters threw wadded up paper and cursed at the board and Lee County Supervisor Don Hunold, who serves as a liaison to the board.
Umthun said he wanted to leave the past in the past and said the best way forward was through good dialogue and possibly keeping the committee together to help police the bylaws and re-establish a working relationship with the board.
“I think it’s a great idea for that committee to be a small group that stays together and is involved with the all the crap these guys have to put up with. So you can see where we’re at, because when we say “no” to someone they’re going to be upset,” Hunold said.
Umthun said having the committee stick together could take the heat off the board in helping make some of the decisions on such things as when weather would dictate pulling the blinds before waters freeze up.
The group submitted a 3-page proposal that outlined how permanent blinds could work on county owned property.
“I hope we can leave the past in the past and work forward,” Umthun said. “We as a commitee understand the ill feeling that was given to this group. I think we can make something work, I honestly do. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be on this committee. I don’t like beating my head against the wall.”
The proposal was seven sections and serves as a one -year contract that would be reviewed annually. The proposal outlines definitions, blind position drawings, construction, use of blinds, removal of blinds, and failure to comply. The agreement also serves as a hold harmless against the county and the conservation board for any potential legal issues.
One of the highlights of the proposal is a $250 deposit before the blind position drawing and each drawing card must have a minimum of three names on it. If the party is not happy with the drawing position they can pass on the site and be refunded their $250 on the drawing day only. Any abandonment of the site after the day of the drawing would result in a forfeit of the deposit.
Any violations of the potential agreement would result in the same penalties for all the members on the drawing card. Any sites not selected during the draw day would be available on a first-come, first-serve basis until the next drawing.
Umthun said having a minimum of three names on the drawing card makes it more difficult for someone to skirt the rules because the other people would be subject to the same penalty.
According to the proposal, blinds must be a minimum of 4’x8′ and sturdy enough to withstand daily usage and must be maintained throughout the season. The blind would be required to have a number visible from outside the blind and it must be placed within 10 feet of the assigned stake.
The proposal also outlines materials that are acceptable for the blind and decoys.
“You guys have done a lot of pick and shovel work and have worked really hard and I really appreciate that work,” said board member Bill Mullan.
Umthun said he wanted to apologize for the way the board was treated.
“I’m a hunter and I will apologize to you all for the way you were treated. Because people don’t understand when someone’s there pointing a finger at you, that can get pretty emotional.”
Conservation director Nathan Unsworth, who inherited the issue when Tom Buckley resigned last summer, said after the meeting that it was his job to facilitate a more productive conversation.
“Basically the board’s going to think about it and at the next meeting or so they may discuss it again,” said Unsworth. “My goal was to facilitate a better conversation than we had last fall. My role was to give these guys a chance to have a conversation that was meaningful.”