BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MONTROSE – Lee County duck hunters pulled out guns of a different sort Wednesday night when a group brought a sitting U.S. Congressman and a candidate for state office to hear complaints about the status of hunting in Lee County.
U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack stood in front of about 25 hunters at the Ivor Fowler Center in Montrose Wednesday, along with Jeff Kurtz, the Democratic candidate for Iowa’s District 83 house seat in November. Kurtz is opposed by Jeff Reichman of Keokuk on the Republican side.
Loebsack said the issue was a local issue and he didn’t have any standing, but said he has supported hunting efforts on the national scale and wanted to show his support for the group.
“We’ve been hearing about this issue, but for me to hear from them directly is why I’m here,” Loebsack said. “I’m not going to weigh in on it as it’s a local issue, but I do support our hunters. I do everything I can for Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever and all those groups. It’s good for me to hear from these groups as it reinforces my support for them as hunters.”
Loebsack said preserving hunters’ rights and making sure they have land to hunt on is part of Americans’ culture and history.
Kurtz said he was happy to see movement and a cordial discussion on the issue.
“My take is that we moved. That’s what we wanted to do,” he said. “For one thing, the county controls most of this and we’ll do what we can. We can’t solve everything in one meet and we’ll take one bite of the apple at a time. But I think we had a little bit of movement.”
Kurtz said he was moving around during the day with Rep. Loebsack and ran into a woman who had her social security cut about 18% which had a huge impact on her livelihood.
“This is important, I understand that, and we’ve made some movement which is great. But let’s keep things in perspective,” Kurtz said.
Nathan Unsworth, the director of the Lee County Conservation District, attended the meeting, but declined to speak at the gathering and said he was just there to listen to the concerns.
The group decided to set a date for the next meeting on Sept. 26 at the Ivor Fowler Center to discuss the concerns individuals have as has to why the current agreement won’t work.
A committee comprised of duck hunters, advocates, Unsworth, and a representative of the Lee County Conservation Board, met for about six months and hammered out a compromise agreement that allowed permanent duck blinds on the river. The board had indicated that 2017 would be the last year of permanent blinds because the board said hunters were not following regulations. They also said the Iowa Department of Natural Resources does not allow permanent blinds on any state property.
Shirley Hoenig, who was on the committee, said the agreement fell apart because conservation staff picked 12 locations for permanent blinds that were not conducive to good hunting locations and therefore didn’t execute the agreement in good faith.
“They’re crappy spots, plus it’s rough out there. Shallow water is good for hunting because that’s where the ducks want to land,” Hoenig said. “They want all these boat blinds and they say a boat blind is fair to everyone. But I say how’s that fair to everyone when not everyone can afford a $17,000 boat blind. Those boats are expensive.”
She said the committee reached an agreement where the district would allow 12 blinds and the conservation staff picked the locations.
“When they did that, I thought – I’ve been meeting with this group since November and we finally made a decision in May. I’ve wasted… wasted every Wednesday that I went to those meetings and spent two or three hours,” Hoenig said.
Billy Burchett, a hunter from Montrose, said he has one of the places that the hunters are upset about but didn’t take part in the lottery drawing in June which determined who got what location.
“The reason we didn’t draw was that there is a $250 charge and there are four pages of stipulations and if you violate anything you surrender your money. And we had to have it out by the end of the season and often we don’t see the ducks until the end,” Burchett said.
Burchett said the other sticking point is that the hunters helped pay for the county’s land and now they can’t hunt on it.
“It was purchased with funds we all pay for out of our habitat stamp money,” he said. “It’s like saying ‘Hey, boys, let’s all go in on something, everybody pitch in $25.’ Then I go buy it and then I say ‘I’ve got it’s mine and you can’t use it’. So that left a bad taste in my mouth.”