By: Charles Kemp
All writers in Op Ed are here to inform and acknowledge issues of importance to our communities, however these writings represent the views and opinions of the authors and not necessarily of The Advertiser.
Tension was thick on March 20th as biologists and wildlife professionals pled their case to the Senate in Columbia. Turkey numbers in the Southeast and particularly South Carolina are in decline. When the legislature set the current turkey season dates in 2015, they mandated the SC DNR to “conduct an analysis of the wild turkey resources in South Carolina, and issue a report including recommendations for seasons and bag limits to the General Assembly” so that they would have current data when again determining the appropriate hunting season. Four years and $641,000 later, the SC DNR presented the results and their recommendations on ways to mediate the declining numbers. Does the Senate take the advice of wildlife professionals backed by this research or do they choose to rely on their intuition and listen to the opinions of their constituents?
The question is when do we want to start hunting the wild turkey and how long do we want to hunt him. The wild turkey population has been in decline over the last decade, however, turkey harvest has been up since the season changed 4 years ago. This is not sustainable and as a result, the SC DNR recommended that turkey season should open on April 10 and to shorten the season ending it on May 15. In the opinion of the wildlife professionals at the meeting the quality of the hunt will not be significantly degraded, and the dominant male gobblers will have more opportunity to breed before being harvested by the hunting population.
- Representing the wild turkey were biologists from the NWTF(National Wild Turkey Federation), the President of the NWTF SC State Chapter, and other conservationists. Having heard testimony from the wildlife biologists and conservationist the floor was given to Edgefield’s own, Dr. James Earl Kennamer. Having spent a lifetime researching the wild turkey and helping restore populations throughout the United States, he supported the research and made comments to its validity. After his testimony, an offensive was mounted against him in an attempt to discredit his statements. During his years of service to the wild turkey, Dr Kennamer has experienced politicians trying to express their expertise on the ways of the wild turkey therefore he was aptly able to defend his statements with little resistance.
At that moment, arising from this cauldron of chaos came Senator Tom Young of Aiken County and Senator Fanning of Fairfield County and Senator Chip Campsen of Charleson County. They championed the cause by rallying behind Dr. Kennamer and the data beating back the opponents of the research. These Senators had listened to qualified testimony on behalf the wild turkey and with undeterred determination they pushed through Senate Bill 575 making turkey hunting season dates in the Low Country March 25-April 30 and in the Upstate April 5-May 12. These are not the dates the wildlife professionals had hoped to get out of the Senate, but it is truly a move in the right direction.
While the Senate bill awaits passage, the House has begun debate on their own bill and the battle between research and opinion will be fought again. We need to encourage our Representatives to follow the Senate’s lead on the starting dates and season length to ensure our state’s official wild game bird population remains strong. Are there any heroes in the House who will stand for the wild turkey?