OUTDOORS- Wyndham elected to NCWRC
By Mike Marsh
Published in Sports on July 17, 2009 1:46 PM
Steve Windham, a 59-year-old sportsman from Winnabow, was elected chairman of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission at the commissioners meeting on July 8, 2009. Former Gov. Easley appointed Windham as commissioner at-large in 2000.
Windham gave his first post-election interview during lunch at Casey's Barbecue in Wilmington, where he discussed problems facing the commission. He said his election was a surprise, along with his reappointment to a four-year term by Gov. Perdue.
"Wes Seegars, the previous chairman, asked if I wanted the chairmanship," Windham said. "I consider it an honor and a challenge. I thank Gov. Perdue for having the faith in me to reappointment me to the commission."
The 19-member commission vote was unanimous in seating Windham. A passionate sportsman, Windham owns Windham Distributing Co.
He suffered criticism over support for changes to the traditional turkey season structure, which failed by a razor-thin voice vote.
"The vote on the turkey season changes was so close, it probably would have passed," Windham said. "But I didn't ask for a show of hands because the issue had become so divisive I no longer considered it in the best interest of hunters."
Windham championed other controversial proposals, including an extension of longer eastern deer seasons and liberalized either-sex bag limits into the central and western regions, Sunday bowhunting and crossbows.
"The latest proposed regulations changes, considered radical by some sportsmen, were intended to provide more opportunities," he said. "On that score, I give the commission a grade of 92. We must recruit and retain hunters. If opportunity exists for greater utilization of a resource such as white-tailed deer, we should implement regulations to reflect that opportunity."
Windham said regulations change constantly, citing a deer population once severely limited that is now hunted in every county. Regulations have been progressively liberalized to take advantage of increasing availability. He fights hard for proposals he favors, but said everyone must move on quickly after votes are counted, win or lose.
"We can't waste energy looking backward," he said. "We must focus our resources on the future."
Windham said the top issue is funding. Reduced revenues are tempting the legislature to tap funds dedicated to wildlife purposes.
"We can't allow that happen," he said. "We must develop a permanent, long-term model to assure funding for current and future projects. To gain widespread support in the legislature, we must educate the public about everything the commission does. Our agency does far more than administer hunting and fishing programs."
Windham discussed the non-game and endangered species program, boating programs, and acquisition and expansion of boat facilities. He said most pleasure boaters have no idea sportsmen provide the lion's share of funding for boating access.
"We must work more closely with our conservation partners, using what funds we have much more efficiently," he said. "We're working more closely with the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries and N.C. Division of Forest Resources. But with other agencies to which we should have a close connection such as the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation, we must build more cooperation."
Windham said while all state citizens benefit from wildlife, hikers, birders and paddlers often mistakenly claim they are non-consumptive users of wildlife.
"While citizens who participate in outdoor recreation other than hunting and fishing keep asking for more access to commission game lands and facilities, nobody else wants to foot the bill hunters and anglers pay for acquiring and maintaining infrastructure. The state's birding trail is located on game lands paid for by hunters. The waterfowl observation platforms, roads and trails birders use were built by hunters. Paddlers use commission boating access areas built by anglers. Wildlife abounds far beyond game land borders of game lands as a direct result of habitat enhancement projects paid for by hunters. Birdwatchers can thank our wildlife programs for the abundance of birds at their feeders."
Windham said the average citizen hearing shotgun fire early in the morning may consider it a nuisance and horseback riders and hikers may falsely fear hunters represent danger.
"Every citizen should realize the very wildlife resources they are enjoying are there because of hunters and fishermen and form a bond with them, rather than an adversarial relationship," he said. "Public perception of traditional outdoors sports will make or break all future wildlife programs. But hunters and anglers must also be willing to listen to and accommodate their fellow citizens."
Pushing away his desert plate, Windham circled with his hands, using the analogy of a pie to represent wildlife resources. He said everyone wanted a piece, but there was not enough to go around.
"There can be a bigger slice of he pie for everyone if we make the pie bigger," he said. "With all of our agencies, conservation groups and citizens pulling together we can increase the size of our wildlife resources pie. Then everyone can enjoy a bigger slice."
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