December 19, 2014

Contentious public hearing about dove hunting

There was a contentious, 90-minute public hearing in Des Moines about the rules for Iowa’s new dove hunting season. 

The Iowa legislature passed a bill, which the governor quickly signed into law, setting the stage for what is expected to be a 70-day hunting season for doves, to begin on September 1.

Some of those who spoke at today’s public hearing are opponents of the new law, and they used the forum to express their frustration. Phyllis Ewing of West Des Moines says passing the bill through the Iowa Senate and House in a mere 24 hour-period prevented opponents from voicing their concerns.

“It was completely outrageous the non-standard and suspect way that this was rushed through the legislature,” Ewing said, to applause.

Sandy Simmons, a member of the Sierra Club’s Iowa chapter, urged dove hunting opponents to lobby legislators to repeal the law.

“What I think many of us in this room are dismayed about is we had no opportunity to comment, to offer any kind of public input as to whether this law was going to go into place or not,” Simmons said.

But others in the room support the new dove hunting season and they were there to urge the state Natural Resources Commission to approve the rules outlining the length of the season, when it starts, and how many doves can be shot in a day. Russell Watt of Marshalltown has been hunting doves out-of-state for 50 years.

“I’d like to be able to do it closer to home, as a matter of face,” Watt said, eliciting applause from hunters in the room and grumbling from opponents,  “without the costs of gas and lodging and out-of-state licenses.”

The hearing was peppered with moans, groans and even boos as passions flared and people talked over one another. After about an hour, one man sitting in the middle of the auditorium who supports dove hunting yelled: “Shut up back there.” A woman who opposes it shouted right back: “You are so irritating.”

Willie Suchy of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources tried to referee.

“Please both sides — this isn’t happening from just one side — it’s a little bit disappointing to me that I can’t see adults behaving the way they should in public,” Suchy said, as the crowd continued to argue among themselves. “Keep your comments civil and respectable and when somebody’s making a comment up here, it’s not really time to harass, no matter which side you’re on.” 

His appeal calmed the crowd only for a short time, though, as the catcalls resumed. Alex Lemke of West Des Moines scolded the hunters in the room.

“We have plenty of other animals that we can kill in this state. I don’t understand why we have to have another living creature to torture, to kill because you’re not going to get enough meat out of it,” Lemke said. “You’re doing it just to be cruel and so I feel strongly and I think that there’s a lot of people in this state who feel strongly and it’s time that we had a voice.”

Denny Baker of Klemme spoke out on behalf of hunters.

“This chance to express ideas and opinions is good, but I think it also goes on to show that the opponents of a dove season really base their negativity on emotions, not facts,” he said. “Research, and I emphasize research, that has been done has substantiated that a dove seasons do not have a negative impact on the dove population.”

Some of the dove hunting opponents and one hunter spoke out in favor of banning lead shot and requiring dove hunters to use “non-toxic” steel shot. But officials in the Iowa Department of Natural Resources say Governor Branstad has made it clear that legislators should make that call, not bureaucrats or a state commission.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to give its go-ahead to the proposed dove hunting season in early August. Then the Iowa Natural Resources Commission is expected to give the hunting season its approval at a commission meeting in the middle of August.