Attacks to your right to know what your government does come in all shapes.
This one takes the shape of a ruffed grouse.
One day, one man got a big idea to use science to inform his grouse hunt. He requested grouse drumming survey data from the Department of Natural Resources. He hunted. He did the same thing the next year.
He made no secret of his intention, so the DNR decided to stop doing the surveys in 2015, so they’d have no information to give him. (We’ll get back to this later).
Now a passel of bipartisan-sponsored bills are in the House to give DNR a new FOIA option — a no-hunting carve out — and a stick to enforce it with, including misdemeanor offenses, fines and a lifetime hunting ban.
The whole thing wobbles from the get-go:
Bill supporters say using location inform- ation from wildlife studies to hunt will skew the |data, rendering it useless and put the state’s resources in jeopardy. They also say state population data isn’t necessary — given technology — and that it is unsporting to provide it.
But here’s the rub — the information is ours.
We own it. And FOIA allows the owners of our state to extract what belongs to us. What we do with it is no business of the DNR or any other government body, unless we break the law — say, hunt over the limit — and there are plenty of ways to deal with that already.
Our FOIA laws are already among the worst in the country. A big chunk of why that is comes from the Legislature, which has exempted both itself and the Governor’s Office from FOIA requests. It’s not surprising that the DNR might want to huddle under this shroud a little, too.
But what’s really in it for them?
DNR spokespeople have said that the bills are based on the man and his grouse from eight years ago.
They’ve said that requests to use DNR information to hunt are “rare.”
They’ve made no mention that anyone violated hunting laws.
Also, not doing a grouse survey to avoid a FOIA seems both passive-aggressive and not in the state’s — or the grouse’s — best interest.
The DNR are the caretakers of our state land. They promote hunting, fishing and connecting to our great state’s abundant natural resources. Their website teems with information to point people in the right direction, be it with a weekly fishing report or a prescribed burn map for hunting mushrooms.
Ask any DNR specialist and they know the good spots to hunt — not because they’re magic, but because they have access to information.
What the bill instead purposes is an information elite.
The potential of misused information is not, and will hopefully never be, an acceptable reason to stop informing us. All of us.
FOIA isn’t just for fancy folk and personal injury lawyers. It’s for bird hunters, too.
If grouse are endangered, make a move.
If a hunter kills more than his share, enforce the law.
But hold your fire on FOIA.