By Don Mallicoat-The NC Wildlife Resources Commission met this past week and a bevy of new Commissioners was appointed. The confusion seems to be in our District 9. Prior to the meeting the agenda packet showed the list of appointments and Chief Michell Hicks of the Cherokee Nation (more on that later) was listed as an At-Large appointee by Speaker of the House Tom Tillis.
However press releases and news prior to the meeting said he was appointed to the District 9 seat by Governor McCrory. I contact Speaker Tillis’ office and they also said he was appointed by the Governor. Yet the WRC press release after the meeting still lists Chief Hicks as an At-Large appointee by Speaker Tillis. All I can tell you is that he is on the Wildlife Resources Commission. I guess over time they will get it straight and of course we will report on it. Despite all the confusion I’ve got some problems with the appointment, especially if it is to the District 9 seat.
First, and you’ve heard me express this thought before, this is a purely partisan political appointment. Now I don’t know Chief Hicks personally. I would recognize him if I saw him because of the numerous photos related to his position as Chief of the Cherokee Nation. I can assume based on his heritage that he hunts and fishes. But we do not need another grip-and-grin, back slapping, go along to get along politician on the WRC to represent the mountains. We got that with Hayden Rogers. We need an involved sportsman who knows the issues and most importantly isn’t afraid to tell it like it is to the people on the Commission who continually neglect wildlife habitat issues in the mountains.
But there is a bigger issue, particularly if he is seated as the District 9 Commissioner. He does not reside within the jurisdiction of the WRC District 9. As Tribal Chief he lives within the Qualla Boundary of the Sovereign Cherokee Nation. North Carolina game laws are not observed there and our enforcement officers have no authority there. In fact, they have their own game wardens and a Tribal Judicial system that enforces those laws. Chief Hicks is a citizen of North Carolina, probably has a license and hunts within District 9. But how can you be accountable to the sportsmen of District 9 if you are technically not even answerable to the same laws they are? Would this not be similar to an elected official living outside the area he represents?
We will see how this shakes out over the next few days and we will report on the facts as they emerge. If the District 9 seat is still open we hope the Governor will select an involved sportsman who can go into the job with a thorough understanding of the issues and can make a convincing case for more support for wildlife habitat in the mountains.
The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission was awarded more than $554,000 in nationally competitive federal grants on Aug. 16 to fund two projects that will help the agency and its partners conserve aquatic species in the Pee Dee River, as well as identify key habitats across the state that could be vulnerable to environmental impacts. The second SWG-funded project, a $94,374 grant, will also have the Commission working with the N.C. Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit (N.C. Coop Unit) to analyze and map key areas around the state that provide the best opportunities for conserving Wildlife Action Plan priority species and their habitats.
Commission biologists will analyze and map these areas, known as Conservation Opportunity Areas, using spatial models to determine habitat threats, such as urban growth, pollution and impacts from climate change. N.C. Coop Unit staff will consolidate and maintain the data, making them available to the public through an online map viewer that will allow users to explore how various habitat threats and risks will affect the landscape over defined periods of time.
“The data will help us understand how various types of landscape-scale threats can impact wildlife habitats and species that are of conservation concern,” said Cindy Carr, the Commission’s Wildlife Action Plan Coordinator. “The information will allow us to develop conservation priorities and recommendations that we will incorporate into the revised N.C. Wildlife Action Plan, which will be released in 2015.” If this is done properly it should help the WRC make the case for more wildlife habitat in the Pisgah and Nantahala NF. If we have a strong voice from the mountains on the Commission.