As many of you know, last night I attended the Utah wildlife Regional Advisory Council (RAC) meeting to discuss the future of shooting from the Antelope Island Causeway. The RAC discusses and sets hunting rules in the state of Utah, and has the authority to write such hunting rules concerning the causeway.
Yesterday I was a nervous wreck, as I had never presented something like this before, and I was a little bit intimidated (okay, I was REALLY intimidated) by the comments on various news stories covering the issue. Yesterday I was envisioning walking into a hornet's nest, a room full of angry hunters, angry because we were trying to take away one of their hunting areas.
I approached the subject from 3 angles. 1) Antelope Island is visited by 280,000+ tourists a year, all of which use the causeway to get to the island. There are runners, bikers, birders, etc. that use the causeway outside of the comforts of a vehicle, and we feel that they are the most at risk. Hunting right along the causeway poses a serious safety threat to all those using the causeway. 2) Antelope Island is a popular tourist destination for those wanting to experience the world famous Great Salt Lake; the park gets visitors from all over the world. We feel that shooting along the causeway (which is the first thing visitors see upon entry) isn't representative of what our state parks are all about, and first impressions do matter. 3) The causeway provides a unique bird habitat because at times, this is some of the only open water on the lake. The two bridges also create a connection between the north and south side, and nutrients cycle between the two sides; this redistribution of nutrients provides valuable feeding opportunities for wintering birds. We feel that the causeway provides absolutely critical wintering bird habitat, and because of that, shooting should not take place along the causeway.
I also stated that this is not a hunting issue. We are all for hunting, and we want to work with hunters to come to a resolution that works well for all sides. I want hunters to have plenty of opportunities to enjoy their passion along the Great Salt Lake, but I just don't feel the causeway is the best spot to do so. Hunters are very passionate, and work very hard towards conservation (their goals are the same as ours!); I understand that and truly appreciate their dedication and hard work. Many of the refuges that we all enjoy exist due to generous contributions from the hunting community. I am in no way trying to limit hunting, I just feel that shooting along the causeway doesn't make sense.
I was so nervous when giving my presentation because I had no idea how it would be received. When the audio transcript of the RAC meeting becomes available on the RAC website
, you are all more than welcome to listen to the scared shitless voice of the proposal to end shooting on the Antelope Island Causeway.
During the process, one member of the board was under the impression that Utah state law prohibited shooting near a roadway. At that time, another member looked up state law on his smart phone and the board figured out that there was absolutely nothing illegal about shooting from the roadside on the causeway. It took most of the members by surprise.
A retired long-term DWR employee, avian biologist, and expert on the Great Salt Lake ecosystem, also spoke on behalf of this issue. He was largely in favor of shooting restrictions along the causeway. He felt that this isn't, and shouldn't be a popular hunting area, and he also feels that this is a one of a kind birding location that shouldn't be disturbed by shooting. This gentleman was widely respected by the board, and everyone payed great attention to what he was saying. His testimony really helped our cause, and I am truly grateful for it.
They asked a few questions, and then voted on whether or not to make this an ACTION item in upcoming meetings. If this proposal were an action item, they would actually vote on whether or not to limit shooting on/around the causeway. The board voted nearly unanimously to make this an ACTION item (1 member abstained), and voted to have the Wildlife Board further investigate the matter.
After presenting to the board, they thanked me for coming and voicing my opinion, and they were all very polite. Every member on the board seemed grateful of the public commentary.
This will now go to the next wildlife board meeting taking place in January, and then it will be an action item in the July/August RAC meetings when they discuss the new Utah waterfowl hunting guidebook. I'll be doing everything I can to be present at those meetings so we can make sure our concerns are heard, and we can make sure that this issue gets some air time.
Following the meeting I spoke with many of the board members, members of the DWR, and other various individuals present. Many folks seemed to be in favor of this proposal, and they all gave me some great advice on how to move forward with http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifthis issue.
Presenting to the RAC was definitely a learning experience for me, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to do so. I learned so much, and had so much fun doing this, and look forward to working more on this issue.
I want to thank the RAC for hearing me out last night. I'd like to thank the various members of the local birding community that helped out with this, and to Cory and Jessica for riding up and supporting. A huge special thanks goes to Jeff Gordon (President of the ABA)
who helped me from start to finish; Jeff really helped me polish our message, and without his help, I don't think it would have been as well received last night. Thank you all very much, and I look forward to working with you in the future.
Labels: activism, Antelope Island, conservation, hunting, waterfowl