IOWA OUTDOORS - Thinking outside the box

Wednesday, February 20, 2002

But in the last several weeks, I've been talking to a lot of people. Quietly, behind the scenes, sort of. And like I usually do, I get my two pennies worth into the conversation. So, I'm going to tell you a few of my comments here. And, I'm going to get a lot of people pretty well hacked off. Some will vent their wrath at me, but hey, I'm just the "messenger."

My expertise is in natural resources and conservation. So, it's logical that when the budget crunch hit, I got some questions concerning possible directions on how to get out of this mess of severe budget constraints. I've already said that divestiture of the bureaucracy in Des Moines and placing DNR personnel out into the field is a good concept. Good, but difficult to accomplish.

Next, we go to the rest of the DNR programs. Everyone knows the DNR is "top-heavy" with bureaucrats who fly desks. There's three, maybe four layers of people who shuffle paperwork before one gets down to the lowly "grunt" in the field. He or she is the only one who knows how to pull nets, operate a shovel, and run a broom. When he or she goes, we get whining and crying.

So, let's look at what's absolutely necessary and required. The state has some 5,000 miles of streams and some 120-odd lakes. Some of those lakes are natural, some artificial. All are managed by the DNR. And all are in trouble.

The rivers are either silted up, subject to violent flooding, or are carrying inordinate amounts of one or more pollutants. Nothing new here. But, I think many of the problems with the rivers and lakes started years ago way, way upstream. It's to Storm Lake's credit that when lake dredging is discussed, the upstream watershed is included in the discussions. This wasn't always the situation, though.

Somehow, the people of Iowa thought endless monoculture of corn and soybeans was good for Iowa's economy. Well, it might have been, if commodity prices had remained high enough. Iowa's problems have always revolved around people and the land. Nothing new here, either.

So, let's get into the gist of this article. I think that Iowa, and Iowa's representatives, either elected or appointed, have tried to do everything for everybody for far too long. It's like the kid in a candy store: Get one of every item, all taste good and look scrumptious, but all taken together will make the kid sick. And Iowa's sick.

So, how to change? Well, we all have to realize that Iowa cannot continue to do business as usual, and still expect fewer people that are left in the state to continue paying more taxes. That means goods and services are going to have to depart from routine thinking and start "thinking outside the box" built by generations previous.

Take deer, for example. There's a movement afoot down in Des Moines to raise the non-resident license limit by 8,500. Do so, maybe, but also increase the non-resident license fee to $250 per license.

Right there, it's an immediate $2.125 million increase in the DNR's budget. That is, if the license revenue is obligated to DNR coffers. Wild turkey hunting in Iowa could possibly withstand an additional 5,000 non-resident licenses, too. If 5,000 more licenses are sold at $100 each, that's another $500K for the DNR coffers. And those non-resident hunters could be put into counties where the turkey population could withstand the extra hunting pressure.

Now, let's go on to fish. I think it's abysmally stupid of the state to charge just $12.50 for a fishing license. I think that way because of the potential value of the product (fish). Walleye filets sell for some $5.50 lb in most grocery stores. A legal license holder can catch up to five walleye per day from Iowa's rivers; lesser numbers from lakes. But if the angler is good, he or she can get way, way more than $5.50 worth of walleye fillets - just in one day's fishing.

So I suggest that walleye tags be provided along with the fishing license. In other words, a fishing license might allow an angler to take five walleye - per license - before more tags might have to be purchased. And the extra tags might be sold for $5 each. Lord knows how much extra income that might produce for the DNR.

But that might stop the practice of one angler fishing for a whole neighborhood of people, and buying one license. Iowa can't afford that luxury, anymore. Obviously, panfish and channel catfish might have the same tagging-type procedure, with lesser cost. But, muskellunge and northern pike, both trophy-type fish, could have a one-per-year tag per license restriction, with extra tags sold for at least $50 each, maybe more.

In the small-game category, again, I think it's stupid for the state to allow each hunter to take three pheasants per day, with a possession limit of a dozen or so. Especially so when commercial outlets advertise smoked pheasant for sale at $35 each. Again, Iowa doesn't get the true value of the resource returned back to the DNR. A good pheasant hunter, during an average season, can limit-out each day afield. Then, the question becomes "how many pheasants can one hunter eat?"

Are you beginning to get the picture? Iowa isn't necessarily "broke." It's just that Iowa doesn't use its natural resources in a cost-effective manner. If a business took Iowa's approach, it would have been gone a generation ago, maybe. That is, unless tax money supported it.

Get the picture?