A turkey season legislative journey

By DAN GEDDINGS
Outdoor columnist
Posted 5/19/19

In early January, I got an email from Tyler Chaplin of Moncks Corner about an article that I had written in December regarding likely changes to the South Carolina turkey season. Someone from Sumter had sent him the article. He wanted to talk to me …

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A turkey season legislative journey

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In early January, I got an email from Tyler Chaplin of Moncks Corner about an article that I had written in December regarding likely changes to the South Carolina turkey season. Someone from Sumter had sent him the article. He wanted to talk to me about the issue and included his phone number. I called him.

Tyler is a young forestry professional and an avid turkey hunter. He was very concerned about a South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Report dated Nov. 1, 2018 - which I had not seen. He sent me a link to the report titled "Wild Turkey Resources in South Carolina with Recommendations on Seasons and Bag Limits."

We talked about the recommendations in the report and the impact it would have on turkey hunters, land management activities and the outdoor industry in the Lowcountry. He said that landowners, outfitters and hunters that he had talked with were all solidly against the proposals in the report. He went on to say that the report had recently been presented to the South Carolina Legislature.

After our phone conversation, I went to the South Carolina Legislature website and looked up contact information on the Senate Fish, Game and Forestry Committee. The chairman is Sen. "Chip" Campsen of Charleston, and one of the members is our Sen. Thomas McElveen of Sumter. I called them both and left messages.

Sen. McElveen called me back in a few days, and we talked about the SCDNR proposals. I knew that Sen. McElveen was a turkey hunter, and I could tell that he was not impressed by the DNR report. He told me that he and Sen. Campsen were working on a new turkey hunting bill.

In late January, I wrote another article about the turkey season proposal, where I outlined some of the problems I had with the DNR report. I got feedback from many readers on that article. Most were supportive, but one wanted to know why I couldn't support the DNR position. I responded that I have always tried to support the DNR, and I have many friends there, but I could not support them when I thought they were wrong. On the turkey season proposal, they were wrong.

In early March, I called Sen. Campsen's office again in an effort to voice my concerns. He wasn't in, but the committee's legal counsel, Brian Cohl, was in Campsen's office. He informed me that Senate bill S. 575, sponsored by Sens. Campsen, McElveen and Martin, was introduced in the Senate and referred to the Committee on Fish, Game and Forestry on Feb. 27, 2019. He sent me a link to the bill and notification of an upcoming subcommittee meeting. He urged me to attend.

This is where the bill started its journey through the legislative labyrinth. I did attend the meeting on March 13 and testified to the subcommittee in support of S. 575. Two members of DNR spoke against portions of the bill, and several members of the National Wild Turkey Federation spoke against the entire bill. The subcommittee voted for approval and to refer the bill to the full committee.

The full committee meeting was scheduled for March 20, which just happened to be the first day of the turkey season. I went to the committee meeting instead of the woods. I testified at this meeting also. When the meeting adjourned, I was approached by a very tall, distinguished-looking gentleman. He thanked me for coming to the meeting and having the persistence to be heard. I recognized him as Alvin Taylor, director of SCDNR.

The House of Representatives introduced its own bill, H. 4318, on March 26, 2019. A House subcommittee meeting of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs was scheduled for March 28, 2019. I attended that meeting and testified in favor of the bill. The meeting was filmed and livestreamed on the internet. Chaplin watched the proceedings on his smartphone out in the woods while cruising timber. The bill was given a favorable vote and sent to the full committee.

Over in the Senate, bill S. 575 was read three times and sent to the House of Representatives on April 2, 2019, where it was referred to the Committee on Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs. The House and Senate bills were very similar, the main difference being season dates.

The full House committee met on H. 4318 on April 3, 2019. I attended this meeting also. No testimony was allowed, but the committee members did ask the SCDNR representatives some questions. The bill received a favorable vote and was sent to the House for debate. The bill was read three times in the House and returned to the Senate with amendments on May 9, 2019 - the last day of the legislative session. The Senate concurred with the House amendments and passed the bill with a rollcall vote. It awaits the governor's signature.

The new law is similar to what we have now, with some additional bag limit restrictions and a new electronic verification process. I am personally pleased with the results.

Reach Dan Geddings at cdgeddings@gmail.com.