"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Legislative Process Due for an Overhaul
Copyright © 2002 by Bill Scifres

It is not a pleasant task--I do not wring my hands with glee and trip the light fantastic when I write columns like this--but the legislative process is due for an overhaul. 

It is being abused by so-called environmentalists who hide behind their good intentions to achieve goals that can be nothing but ego trips that hinder management of resources by professional biologists, foresters and others of the scientific community. 

And what, you may ask, has prompted your reporter to jump up on the sycamore stump and expound on the evil ways of so-called "tree huggers" and others who with the help of friendly legislators exploit resources. 

To be very brief, it is House Bill (HB) 1342 which would, if adopted by the legislature and signed by the governor, usurp the authority of the Division of Forestry to manage our magnificent forest properties. Incidentally, there are 13 of them--mostly in the southern half of the state--and they cover an estimated 146,000 acres. 

As referred to the House Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Committee, HB 1342 would, most importantly, take away the division's authority to harvest timber. But there are other concerns. 

As important as that facet of the total argument may be, it is not the focal point of this column, or the thinking of hundreds of thousands--perhaps even millions--of Hoosiers who have a stake in the welfare of every one of those natural and wildlife resources. 

The big rub comes in the fact that a few vociferous individuals throw their loud-mouth weight around to influence legislators, resource managers, and (at times) even high-ranking government officials who can (and sometimes do) sway resource management decisions negatively. 

The author of HB 1342 has indicated that his brainchild probably will not pass (it has been assigned to the House Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Committee). 

It is possible that this outlandish concept may not even make it out of committee. And that is where the big rub begins. 

No matter how insignificantly stupid a bill thrown into the legislative hopper may be, there always is the chance that it will be adopted and signed into law. For this reason, managers of resources have to drop the "half-dressed hide" to defend what they are doing. 

In most cases, the resource mangers have years of both education and experience in their fields, but they still have to defend their actions against "armchair managers" who convert facts into fantasy to downgrade systems that are working. 

Having observed both the legislative process and the operation of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for something like half a century, I will tell you flat out that the DNR and its satellite, the Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), are doing (or not doing) some things that make me think there may be better ways to achieve goals. But who am I--an outdoorsman/writer who doesn't always understand quite all he knows about resources management--to tell a professional manager that he is doing a bum job of scraping the hide. 

Then, of course, there always is the possibility that even if resources were to be managed on the whims of a few, resources and the multitudes would suffer. 

What we need is more/better control of bills to be placed in the legislative process. Even in long sessions, legislators must address far more bills than they can give adequate attention. In short sessions the problems is manifold. 

The DNR's Summer Legislative Study Committee, for several years has been doing a good job of screening potential bills and concepts for the legislature. But not all bills go through this panel because the authors of some bills fear their brainchildren will be shot down before they get to the big show. Approval of the Summer Study Committee is not required of potential bills to be thrown into the legislative hopper.

With this thought in mind, one has to wonder why HB 1342 was not taken before the Summer Study Committee. 

One also has to wonder (since management of natural and wildlife resources is an exacting science) why the prerequisite to resource management bills in the legislature would not be approval of the Summer Study Committee. 

If we wanted to take that concept a bit further, we could expand the Summer Study Committee by enlarging its membership to include some of the great minds of the field from our colleges and universities, and responsible citizens from other fields. And we could depend more heavily on our own resource managers. There was a time in Indiana when the knowledge of professionals was heavily sought by the legislature as potential laws were processed. But in recent years, gun-shy elected government officials have muzzled the experts for fear of reprisals at the polls. 

Groups seeking legislative changes could take their management thoughts to the Summer Study Committee. If these concepts are sound, they will be turned into bills and introduced for final consideration by the legislative bodies. 



All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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