By MIKE CORN
TOPEKA -- Politics has slammed headfirst into the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks' rush to implement policy to protect the state's waters from aquatic nuisances.
That pronouncement, from acting Secretary Robin Jennison, didn't set well with some members of the Kansas Wildlife and Parks Commission, including member Debra Bolton, Garden City.
"We've seen the mission of the department up on the screen twice, and one of the things it didn't say was political considerations."
It also was counter to Jennison's earlier announcement that the inclusion of travel and tourism into the agency won't change its mission.
"Our marketing folks are not going to guide what we do," he said.
The issue of politics and its interference with setting regulations came about when Jason Goeckler was asked for the department's recommendation on how best to approach regulations on dealing with bait fish.
"The department is not prepared to offer a recommendation at this time," said Goeckler, the department's point man on aquatic nuisance species. "We're seeking the commission's guidance on a recommendation."
Since January, Goeckler has been beating the drum to push for the implementation of rules that would help stop the spread of nuisance species.
Instead, with Jennison now at the helm of the agency, Goeckler has been stopped in his tracks on that initiative.
"The question is really one of politics with our anglers," Jennison said as Goeckler struggled to answer why no recommendation had been offered.
Commission Chairman Kelly Johnston first raised concerns about the lack of a recommendation, saying the issue in past meetings had been described as "potentially disastrous" to the fisherman.
"I'm a little bit surprised on an issue this serious, that the department is not making a recommendation," he said.
"We had a pretty significant discussion two weeks ago," Jennison said of the focus on regulations. "It is a political issue with our anglers and we are seeking some guidance from our commission, and you do represent the entire state."
Goeckler presented commissioners with four options:
* Ban use of wild-caught bait fishes and crayfishes.
* Restrict the use of wild-caught bait fishes and crayfishes to the waters where taken.
* Allow four commonly-used species (green sunfish, bluegill and black and yellow bullheads) to be transported from one water body to the next except from known ANS-infected lakes.
* Do nothing.
Commissioners bantered back and forth on the issue, focusing in on either restricting wild-caught bait to waters where they were taken or allowing movement of the four species.
But the third option didn't go far enough for most members.
"All of this is going to be a law enforcement nightmare," said Commissioner Gerald Lauber, Topeka. "Everyone is going to be technically correct and everyone is going to be technically wrong.
"We're going to have to do something."
Frank Meyer, Herington, voiced his support for the two most stringent options, while Shari Wilson, Kansas City, said she thinks the third option would simply be confusing.
"I'm not sure how much direction that gives you from when you came in," Johnston told Goeckler.
"I think we should move along pretty rapidly whatever we do," Lauber said. "Our invasive species is still hanging around. We'd just as soon have some prohibition in place sooner rather than later."