Nothing spreads faster in the outdoors than a good rumor.
I'm amazed to hear assertions in hunt camps and tackle shops not supported by facts. All too often outdoorsmen complain that laws are passed and regulations are imposed behind their backs.
The system isn't designed to work that way, but often does because sportsmen usually are more interested in catching a bass or stalking a deer than in following an issue and making their preferences known. It's much easier to complain after the fact than to get ahead of an issue and defeat it or change it to their benefit.
In a February meeting at Maidendown Bay Hunting Preserve near Marion, some participants asked Department of Natural Resources biologists if public meetings had been held about a law change last year that banned future mallard hunting preserves.
While DNR sometimes holds public meetings around the state on various issues, it held no meetings on the mallard preserve issue. However, there were several stops along the route to passage where interested parties could have been heard.
Most such issues usually are first heard by one of the board's advisory committees. The Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries committee considers matters affecting wildlife and fisheries and, after hearing from DNR staff and any interested citizens who attend the committee's meetings, makes recommendations to the board.
The board, which meets monthly, consults DNR staff and hears from interested parties in attendance when that issue is considered before deciding whether to proceed with proposed legislation.
Once legislation is introduced in the House and/or Senate, it's referred to a committee that holds hearings. In the Senate, most wildlife bills are handled by the Fish, Game and Forestry Committee. In the House, it's the Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee. Both committees normally direct proposed bills to a subcommittee for fine-tuning.
A legislator may introduce a bill or amend a bill already on the calendar. Differences are ironed out in subcommittee meetings and in joint meetings between the House and Senate committees.
All these meetings are open to the public - by law. Every bit of legislation introduced at the S.C. Legislature is placed on the House or Senate calendar, available on line at www.scstatehouse.net. The addresses, legislative and home phone numbers and e-mail addresses for all the legislators also are listed.
The DNR Board and committee meetings also are open, and the public is urged to attend and participate. Anyone with business for the board or needing directions to a board meeting should contact the DNR's Columbia office at (803) 734-9102. Remember, the person answering the phone is there to assist, but not to listen to a tirade. That person can direct you to the proper staff person if you have questions. When a change in wildlife laws or regulations is rumored, call DNR or your legislator and get the facts.
There's ample opportunity for public participation in the process that establishes or changes wildlife laws. It behooves anyone with a vested interest in the outdoors - whether as a commercial operator or simply someone who enjoys hunting and fishing - to stay abreast of what's happening and be prepared to have his or her say.