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SPOTLIGHT
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Sebelius: Stint on wildlife commission 'tremendous'

Published on -8/5/2011, 10:07 AM

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By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

NORTON -- Doug Sebelius knew his days on the Kansas Wildlife and Parks Commission were numbered even before his term expired.

But, Sebelius said he got a letter from the director of appointments for Gov. Sam Brownback, saying "thank you and sayonara. It sounded like I attempted to re-up and I didn't."

Don't take that to mean he didn't enjoy his time on the commission.

He did. Immensely so.

"Oh, it's fantastic," he said. "If people could do this on their own without considering it official business. Traveling the state and seeing what we've got out there for recreational opportunities.

"It's something everybody ought to do."

He was lucky enough to have the chance to do it as a member of the group responsible for passing rules and regulations governing what is now the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.

But it also convinced him to join others on the commission "trying to combat the natural deficit disorder."

Kansas is low on the list as far as state-owned properties are concerned, he said, but there's plenty of recreational opportunities.

Sebelius is convinced KDWP does a "great job of getting programs out."

While he's not much of a hunter, thanks in large part to his wife, an avid birder, he delights in getting outside.

"If I would have shot a bird, I would have been loathed forever," he said, chuckling. "I love fishing and boating."

And with a reservoir, named for Keith Sebelius, his father, just outside the city of Norton, Sebelius ducks out to try his hand at catching fish whenever possible.

So many other people in the state do the same thing, he said.

He thinks that's a reflection of what people in the state want -- more outdoor recreational opportunities.

He points to the state's Walk-in Hunting Areas and the use they receive as support for his argument.

"These things aren't land acquisition," he said, "they are land access programs."

In something of a parting shot, Sebelius said the Circle K deal with the city of Hays was "torpedoed" by the likes of then-Sen. Tim Huelskamp, who was among the strongest voices against the state wildlife agency.

Circle K is a ranch in Edwards County, jointly owned by the cities of Hays and Russell; KDWP&T for a brief time tried to buy it for use as a state park, but were rebuffed by legislators.

As for the absorption of the tourism bureau into the wildlife agency, Sebelius is taking a wait-and-see attitude.

"I'll keep an open mind," he said, but he cautions a lot of people he talked to didn't see it as a positive for the agency.

"The ones around here, they said, 'Hey, what gives?' " he said. "They thought they (wildlife and park interests) were going to take a back seat."

He'd also like to see a concerted effort to find a dedicated source of funding for parks.

Fee funds are good, he said, but there needs to be something dedicated to making sure parks are in good shape and improvements can be made.

His proposal?

Sebelius is convinced the state should wait until the latest 1 percent sales tax is about to expire and then retain an eighth of 1 percent, making it a dedicated source of money for parks.

That would let park fees remain reasonable so they can be used by more people.

As for Sebelius, he hopes to spend a bit more time fishing at -- where else -- Keith Sebelius Reservoir.

"The crappie fishing has been tremendous this year," he said. "I hope it's not just a honeymoon period, that we're being recognized as a good fisheries."

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