It's good to see new Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr publicly say he wants to hear what waterfowl hunters in Minnesota have to say about anything related to the sport - whether it's habitat, duck numbers, whatever.
The big question will be: What will he and the DNR do with any information they receive?
The DNR is inviting hunters to participate in a newly-formed waterfowl hunting listening session, which you can sign up for until March 14. From the pool of respondents, it will select 12 to make up a focus group that will meet once a month from March through June. The agency will seek input on hunter recruitment and retention; habitat issues and strategies; and hunting and harvest issues such as season dates and bag limits.
It's a great idea and shows, at least on the surface, that the DNR - one of the most controversial and scrutinized agencies in the state - wants to know what exactly is on hunters' minds. We hope it's more than a public relations move and that maybe some ideas generated by the focus group are turned into solutions for what ails this state's duck population.
But the DNR should take it a step further.
We know the DNR can't host a thousand-member panel, so why not open up a online focus group, open to all? Put a link on the DNR website specific for hunters around the state to provide ideas or air their complaints, a site where hunters can chat or debate with others from across the state.
The DNR site currently does have a "contact us" button and a link to the state white pages to track down specific DNR offices, and it regularly asks for public comments on particular projects throughout the state, but it could go further than that and get all the hunters "together" in some kind of chat room where they can log on and take part in informal conversation and give-and-take about more wide-ranging issues. Don't underestimate the power of healthy debate - ideas can be born from it - even if it's faceless in cyberspace. Sure, there will inevitably be posters who have nothing productive to say and who will use the site for no other reason than to complain or insult the DNR, but when it comes to hunting in Minnesota, most passionate outdoorsmen/women are mature enough to offer up some good conversation.
And they all want to be heard, especially if they know the DNR is listening.
Social networking among hunters might be a good way for the DNR to really zero in on some potential problems in specific areas of greater Minnesota as it sets its waterfowl priorities during the next four years. And, assuming Landwehr is sincere when he says he wants to hear what the general population of hunters think - both the good and the bad - we're optimistic the DNR might act on the real issues hunters face out in the field. In that respect, hunters can be the DNR's eyes and ears, and they would more apt to take on that responsibility if they know the DNR is really listening.