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Ask Anything: 10 questions with N.C. Wildlife Commission Chairman Steve Windham

North Carolina Wildlife Commission Chairman Steve Windham answers your questions about the future of hunting and the state's wilderness areas.

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N.C. Wildlife Commission Chairman Steve Windham
Steve, why does North Carolina continue to ban Sunday hunting? I for one would love to be able to hunt on Sundays since I work Monday – Friday. — Mark, Cary

Your question touches on several areas of wildlife management, regulations and rule-making that are important to the Wildlife Resources Commission and to our broad constituency of all citizens of North Carolina. First, it is important to realize that Sunday hunting is a contentious issue among North Carolinians. In a 2006 comprehensive survey of N.C. residents, we found an almost equal split between those favoring and those opposed to hunting on Sunday. Secondly, you should know that the ban on Sunday hunting is established in law and would require action of the General Assembly to change. However, this law pertains only to Sunday hunting with firearms, and, therefore, hunting on Sunday with archery equipment is not prohibited by this law.

In March 2009, the Wildlife Resources Commission approved a regulation change proposal that would allow hunting on Sunday with archery equipment on private lands, except for migratory game birds. This was done primarily on the basis of providing additional hunting opportunities for persons, just like you, who have limited time to participate in hunting. This decision was also restricted to private lands, because the Commission felt it was appropriate to allow private landowners to make the decisions, within the biological constraints of appropriate wildlife management, regarding hunting on their properties.

In April 2009, the Sunday bowhunting proposal was reviewed by the Rules Review Commission (RRC), as required by law, for compliance with the Administrative Procedure Act. One provision of that law requires the RRC to refer any rule proposal to the General Assembly for review if the RRC receives written objection from 10 or more persons regarding that proposed rule. The General Assembly has until the 31st day of its next session to act on the proposed rule; otherwise, it will take effect as proposed. The Sunday bowhunting proposal was one of the proposed rules for which the RRC received sufficient written objection. Therefore, for the 2009-2010 hunting season, hunting on Sunday with archery equipment will continue to be prohibited.

License sales are down and declining, state agency budgets are very tight right now, and there doesn't seem to be enough public hunting areas to accommodate those who enjoy the sport in our state. Look into a crystal ball if you will and tell me what see in the future for hunters and sportsmen in our state? Tell us about the warts and the roses! — Brian Newton, Wilson

Providing public hunting opportunities has long been a major focus of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and will remain so. Public hunting opportunities in North Carolina date to 1939, when the reallocation of 38,500 acres from the Board of Education resulted in the creation of what was known at that time as Holly Shelter Wildlife Refuge (now Holly Shelter Game Land). As a result of continued acquisitions and cooperative agreements with other state, federal, corporate and private landowners, the game land acreage in our state has increased to more than 2 million acres.

The Wildlife Resources Commission currently owns approximately one-half million acres in fee title, and more than half of that has been acquired since 1990, largely as a result of the funding opportunities provided by the creation of the North Carolina Natural Heritage and Clean Water Management Trust Funds, along with the support of numerous conservation partners that have worked with us to identify and protect these valuable properties in conservation ownership.

Within the last couple of years, we have just completed one of the largest land acquisition projects in the agency’s history. In a deal brokered by The Nature Conservancy, we have added 66,000 acres of former International Paper Company lands to our game lands program in the Upper Tar, Roanoke and Chowan River Basins. Incidentally, this acquisition will be featured in the October 2009 issue of our Wildlife in North Carolina magazine.

As our state continues to develop and grow, the importance of public land will no doubt continue to increase. On behalf of all our state’s sportsmen and sportswomen, we will continue to explore every available avenue for providing additional public hunting opportunities in our state.

Do I need a fishing and hunting permit for a 10-year-old if he is with an adult who has a license? — Danielle, Chapel Hill

The answer to your question is no.

This is important for parents who want their children to participate in fishing and hunting. It is also an important component in the Wildlife Resources Commission’s programs to encourage and promote opportunities for youth fishing and hunting. Here are the details:

Fishing: Persons under the age of 16 are exempt from the requirement of a basic inland fishing and trout privilege license. Additionally, if fishing in coastal waters or in joint inland/coastal waters, persons under age 16 are exempt from the requirement of a Coastal Recreational Fishing License, which is administered by the Division of Marine Fisheries.

Hunting: Persons under the age of 16 who are accompanied by a properly licensed adult may enjoy those privileges conveyed by the licenses held by the accompanying adult. Persons under age 16 who have obtained a certificate of competency showing their completion of the hunter safety course may hunt on their own without a license but must carry the certificate while hunting.

Can I hunt the deer from my backyard that are decimating the plants, shrubs and trees in my neighborhood? And if so, what can I hunt with? — Paul Dlouhy, Wake Forest

The Wildlife Resources Commission sets hunting seasons which apply to all of the state, and these seasons, bag limits and manner of take are explained in our Regulations Digest. If your backyard is within an area under the jurisdiction of municipal ordinances, some of these ordinances may restrict the methods you may use to take deer during the hunting season. If this is the case, you would need to get a waiver from the governing body that enacted and enforces such ordinances to use a normally prohibited hunting method such as a firearm or bow and arrow. If the deer are destroying your property, you may shoot those deer at any time with any legal method and dispose of the dead deer on your property unless you first obtain a depredation permit to utilize the deer meat (though you can keep the first five for your own use without a permit). The same restrictions that may be placed on you by a municipal governing body for hunting would also apply for shooting deer in the act of depredating your property. The depredation law applies only to the individual property owner’s property and would not be something that could be addressed necessarily for your neighborhood as a whole.

Do you think using dogs to chase deer is right? I hunt the Sandhills gameland, and I see it all the time, dogs chasing deer to a hunter waiting with a shotgun. I still prefer hunting with no dogs. — Robert Malton, Fayetteville

One of the great things about hunting is that it appeals to a broad group of people, each with their own ideals of what makes a perfect hunting experience. Some like the solitude of deer hunting from a tree stand, while others prefer the camaraderie of dog deer hunting with friends and family.

Dog deer hunting is a hunting method that goes back generations and is a North Carolina hunting tradition. It takes large blocks of land to hunt in this manner, and it is becoming more of a challenge to find suitable places for this activity as North Carolina’s human population grows and large tracts of land continue to be broken up for development.

All types of hunting have similar challenges relative to the issue of where to hunt. It is one of the reasons I have been, and will continue to be, supportive of the agency’s land acquisition efforts. The challenges are just more apparent relative to dog deer hunting and it is more conducive to causing conflicts than most types of hunting.

Hunting is important to North Carolina. It is important as a recreational choice, as a wildlife management tool, as an economic force and as a wonderful way to enjoy the outdoors. It is also important to me. I support all forms of hunting as long as it is done responsibly with consideration of others and respect for the animal.

I'm a lifetime sportsman and have some concerns about our local fishing holes. Would it be possible to make more of an effort to catch those who catch and keep just about anything (regardless of size or species) that bites their fishing hook? Sneak down to Jordan, or some of the (walk to) access points for the local rivers and you'll see what I mean. While you're at it, how about ticketing people who leave trash all over the shores and banks? We don't need that stuff in our waterways. Get after these people! — Larry R., Chapel Hill

I’m sure you are aware that our wildlife enforcement officers cover vast areas, and sometimes it’s difficult for an individual officer to be at a particular spot when a wildlife violation occurs. That’s why it’s important for all sportsmen and women to practice ethical hunting and fishing in order to preserve opportunities for everyone and to protect our public trust resources that belong to every person. It is also important for you to assist us in protecting those resources.

When you see a wildlife violation, I urge you to report it on our toll-free phone line at 1-800-662-7137or 919-707-0040 in the Raleigh area. You may not see an immediate response from one of our enforcement officers, simply due to the size of the areas our officers cover, the number of officers available, location of other assignments, etc., but those reports are used to determine locations that might need enhanced patrolling or a specific detail at another time.

Concerning trash in our waterways, you should know that our officers enforce littering violations very strongly. Littering is more than just an unsightly blemish on the landscape. It can cause serious damage to aquatic and terrestrial resources and prevents others from enjoying the outdoors. You should also know that in order to enforce littering violations, our officers must witness the littering act occurring. You can also help by carrying a trash bag with you and encouraging others to help clean up areas that you frequent. This sets a good example, especially for youth, and helps preserve opportunities for continuing public access.

I have been hunting in N.C. for the past several years and find the state gameland regulations confusing when hunting different counties in the same area (Wake/Chatham). My biggest fear is not reading the right section of the book and hunting the wrong day or time frame. Is there anything in the works that would make the SGL rules more consistent? — Rob, Apex

Your question is very important to the Wildlife Resources Commission. Complexity of rules is one of the primary reasons people say they drop out of hunting or never start to begin with. The agency has undertaken an effort over the last few years to work toward reduced complexity in agency rules including those affecting game lands. We have even added a complexity justification section to our internal rules proposals to help us evaluate complexity issues against the need for a rule change. One of the biggest challenges is that wildlife regulations in North Carolina generally are enacted via three different mechanisms: statutes passed by the General Assembly, session Laws (also referred to as Local Laws) passed by the General Assembly at the request of the counties, and rules enacted by the Wildlife Resources Commission. The Wildlife Resources Commission is granted the authority to enact rules via statutes enacted by the General Assembly. In some cases, this is a very broad authority, and in others it is very limited. The challenge for Wildlife Commissioners and staff is to try and accomplish conservation, management and opportunity objectives within this framework while making it as simple as possible. We will keep working to reduce rules complexity as a barrier to hunting.

I have been an avid waterfowl hunter for most of my life. I have recently seen increased bag limits and more allowances for hunting Canada Geese in N.C. But, the majority of geese in the state reside in areas that do not allow hunter access, such as golf courses, subdivisions and city limits, to name a few. I want to know what N.C. Wildlife is doing to address the issue that overpopulation has been a result of a decline of huntable land and an increase in protected habitat. Regardless of bag limits and regulations, if the geese can not be hunted at the places they reside and feed, then the population will not decline. — Adam Parchman, Goldsboro

Most of the expanded hunting methods allowable for hunting early season resident Canada geese are designed to assist hunters in taking many of these geese that may frequently reside in the non-huntable areas you describe. Additional expanded hunting methods will take effect in 2009. Extending the shooting hours to a half-hour after sunset, allowing unplugged shotguns and allowing electronic calls (all only in September and only West of U.S. Highway 17) should assist hunters in taking these geese during times when they move away from those protected areas. Other steps to address the overpopulation issue outside of hunting season are implemented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program. We hope that the combination of expanded hunting methods, seasons and bag limits, along with population reduction efforts applied by the Department of Agriculture directly in areas where hunting cannot occur, will result in a more balanced resident Canada goose population that will sustain hunting for years to come.

I grew up in the Adirondack Park where fishing, hunting and camping were a way of life. Land is abundant, and people are scarce up there. I am still learning about N.C., but since I have moved to the RTP area, I have tried to find public land that would be good for primitive camping and backwoods hunting, but to little success. Where in N.C. would one go truly experience primitive camping and backwoods hunting? I don't want to hear a car, siren, airplane or a phone ring for a good 3 to 5 days. Could you please recommend a couple of places where I could this hunting season to disappear for a couple of days? — Ray, Durham

No promise that you will not hear an airplane, but there certainly are opportunities to escape cars, sirens and telephones. We are very fortunate to have four national forests in North Carolina, totaling approximately 1 million acres, and by cooperative agreement with the USDA Forest Service, all of that property is included in the North Carolina Wildlife Game Lands Program. Many of these areas are extremely remote and offer ample opportunity for a true backwoods experience. Specifically, you may want to consider some of the designated wilderness areas, which are by design intended to provide precisely the experience you are seeking.

The Birkhead Mountain Wilderness Area, located on the Uwharrie National Forest in Randolph County, consists of 5,000 acres and is relatively short drive from you location in Durham. There are also wilderness areas on the Croatan National Forest in Carteret, Craven and Jones counties and a number of them on the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests in the western part of the state. The Linville Gorge Wilderness Area in Burke County, in the Grandfather Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest, encompasses 12,000 acres and is often referred to as the Grand Canyon of the East.

For maps of these areas and specific information on access points and camping opportunities, contact the USDA Forest Service in Asheville at (828) 257-4200. There is also a significant amount of information available at www.cs.unca.edu/nfsnc/index.htm.
With new housing developments popping up all over N.C., how can we preserve N.C.'s natural habit for wildlife? — Michelle Allen, Fayetteville

Thank you for your very important question. You identified one of the most challenging areas we face in preserving the future for wildlife in N.C. The Wildlife Resources Commission is very actively engaged in preserving and enhancing habitat for all wildlife species. Many of our programs are described on our Web site, www.ncwildlife.org, under the tab for Wildlife Species and Conservation.

One obvious solution is acquisition of land for wildlife habitat protection. With the help of the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the Natural Heritage Trust Fund, local land trusts and many other partner organizations, we have secured hundreds of thousands of acres of land on which we implement management practices to enhance wildlife and preserve ecological functions such as water quality protection, watershed function and vegetation management. We also promote landowner use of conservation easements to preserve habitat for a variety of species on private lands.

In urban areas, you should know about the Green Growth Toolbox, a program of resources to help urban planners and developers avoid or reduce impacts to wildlife from development activities. Another example is the Wildlife Friendly Development Certification program, which is designed to assist and recognize residential developments that incorporate essential wildlife habitat elements into development projects. These and other important programs are important components of a comprehensive approach to preserving wildlife habitat.

As you are probably aware, funds to support land acquisitions and other wildlife habitat protection programs are limited. You can help fund these programs by contributing a portion of your state income tax refund on line No. 27 of the state income tax return to the Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Fund. Tax check-off donations are used for projects that benefit nongame animals and their habitats. 

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