By: Bobby Cleveland
I finally figured out why we had such a cold, long, late winter in Mississippi, and it has absolutely nothing to do with anything meteorological or any other science.
Basically, Hell had frozen over, and we were just caught up in it. Or maybe we here in the Magnolia State were the cause.
Now, wait, follow me a minute.
An outdoor writer for nearly four decades in Mississippi, I long questioned why our hunting seasons, limits and regulations were in the hands of the Legislature. Few of its members hunt and none have any degrees or training in wildlife management.
Across town, we have always had a state agency with offices filled with biologists, most of who hunt and all of whom have degrees in wildlife-related sciences. The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks should have had that power.
Politics being politics, our legislators owned that unqualified authority and never seemed the slightest bit interested in giving it up.
Oh sure, they dreaded any legislation that came up involving hunting or fishing, because they knew just how much of a political hot potato any such bill would be.
But, give it up? No way. Hell would freeze over first.
Lo and behold, this frigid winter, the Legislature removed itself from the equation, turning over deer bag limit authority to the wildlife agency and its oversight Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.
House Bill 719 passed the House 103-14 on Feb. 6, passed the Senate 52-0 on Feb. 27, and was signed by Gov. Phil Bryant on March 6. It is quite simple:
“The commission shall have plenary authority to set the bag limits for white-tailed deer, and promulgate any regulations necessary to facilitate the exercise of that authority, consistent with best management practices, scientific data and subject to all existing applicable laws, rules and regulations of this state or the United States of America.”
What it means
For those who don’t know, plenary means absolute.
In other words, beginning July 1, the state law will be that the Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks owns “absolute authority” to set deer limits in Mississippi.
Of course, let us not forget that the Legislature still has control of the wildlife agency’s annual budget, so … Plenary and absolute do have their limits, regardless of what Mr. Webster, or Funk and Wagnall’s or Wikipedia say.
The Legislature, expert as it is in such matters, still has authority over season dates.
What this bill does is give our wildlife experts control over how many deer Mississippi hunters can kill, including both bucks and does, and it gives them the authority to define a legal buck.
It gives them that authority on public land and it gives them that authority on your private land.
There are many who feel that that is not a good thing.
A cherished change
One friend told me “who gives the wildlife agency the right to tell me what and how many I can kill on my land?”
“Well,” I said, “the Legislature did, and let me ask you this, would you rather have a legislator or the whole lot of them tell you what and how many you can kill or a trained wildlife biologist.”
Said my friend: “I’d rather argue it with a legislator, cause he needs my vote.”
Which basically means my friend could argue with an untrained “expert” and not have to sidestep such things as biological evidence of why decisions were being made.
Said another friend: “Oh boy, here we go, watch how quickly our regulations grow from a simple one-or two-page brochure to more of a novel, with more stuff that we can keep up with.”
While that scenario now becomes more possible, I doubt we will see it any time soon.
Biologists say that this is a big move, one they never really expected, so I think it’s unlikely they’d do anything drastic that would screw it up and cost them that power (or the right to spend their special funds budget, revenue that can’t by law be spent any other way).
What I suspect is that they will savor having the ability to make adjustments where needed, protect it, and use it only when it is absolutely necessary.
The key thing is that our wildlife managers and authorities now have the power to act in emergencies, without having to go through the legislative process, which ends each year in either April or May.
This is a good thing, taking politics out one more phase of wildlife management, and especially when it’s the No. 1 phase when it comes to hunting in Mississippi.
Reprinted from Mississippi Sportsman Magazine