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Outdoors: Raising fees hot topic at informational forum

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Updated: April 8, 2014 6:33AM



GRIFFITH — The biggest takeaway from the informational forum with DNR folks Tuesday night at the Lake County Fish and Game Protective Association Inc. was sportsmen are lot smarter than the average citizen. At least about the need for appropriate funding and fees.

Even so, any talk of raising of license or other DNR fees is a “political nightmare’’ because it is equated with raising taxes. Fishermen and hunters are different. For decades, they have shown they are more than willing to pay their way, more than any other group I know of.

When talk came of raising fees to help with access and programs at favorite Northwest Indiana Fish and Wildlife Areas, such as LaSalle and Willow Slough, in particular, but also Kingsbury, the audience did not back off but began the discussion about reaching out to legislators.

The meeting was called because of concern over loss of access and equipment (boats, blinds) at local FWAs, and other concerns.

Some of it was airing ageless questions, some of it specific to Willow Slough and some of it the usual kvetching of hunters.

The eternal question came about why so much public land is far away from the population base of Northwest Indiana. That question is asked in some form in nearly every Rust Belt state and the answer is generally the same, public land is usually bought where it is cheaper.

There were questions on why the hunting draws are not done the day before, so guys can know. That was pretty much squashed by the audience, several of whom expressed the opinion that loading and doing the draw is part of the experience. Questions came about doing away with so many reserved hunts.

As to the boats at Willow Slough, something that I miss, James Kershaw, public lands program manager for the Indiana DNR, put it simply, “If it is not yours, you don’t take as good of care of it.’’ I don’t think they are coming back.

Multiple questions came on gun ranges: Is it possible to put fees on Illinois residents using the Willow Slough range? A new gun range in Northwest Indiana? (Kershaw said they would prefer to upgrade what is already here).

There was technical stuff. Schoof said there will be aerial applications on phragmites (he drew a laugh when he said the bluegill fishermen might complain).

Question came on why no or few afternoon draws for waterfowl hunts? (I got the sense that is not going to happen, in part to rest the birds). Several wondered why the state doesn’t get the proposed waterfowl-hunting dates out earlier, so guys can schedule vacation days. (That question will be delivered to Indianapolis.)

There was and is no satisfactory answer to the perplexing question of public access at Buffington. Ultimately, that is going to come down to local politicians feeling enough heat.

Fishing: The big news in the past week is the brief window for a few boaters to get out and pick up some coho on the Lake Michigan shoreline. Then the ice pack came back and that was that. Point is the coho are there, if the ice pack goes out again, say this weekend, coho will be caught at traditional spots such as Gary Light, the Ditch and the Port.

“It is just a waiting game,’’ said Capt. Rich Sleziak at Slez’s Bait in Lake Station. Shore fishermen by the ditch are picking up some coho and browns. ... Ice fishing goes on, in fact, Sleziak said people are still coming in to get ice fishing gear. By far the best public spot remains at Willow Slough.

Hunter Ed: Spots remain for the hunter education course on March 14-15 at Cedar Lake Family Golf Center. All hunter ed is now registered online at register-ed.com/programs/indiana.



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