Kansas has taken another step in the fight against the novel coronavirus.
Amid a political firestorm between Democratic and Republican leadership regarding the ability of church members to congregate during the coronavirus pandemic, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly signed an executive order Thursday evening that may slip under the radar for many but will have a big effect on hunters and small businesses in the weeks to come.
The Democratic governor signed into law Executive Order 20-21, which will completely suspend the sale of new general nonresident turkey hunting permits, similar to actions taken by Nebraska in recent weeks to curtail the spread of COVID-19. As of 7 p.m. Thursday, the option to purchase nonresident spring turkey permits had been removed from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism website.
Those who have already purchased an out-of-state turkey permit will still be allowed to hunt but must abide by quarantine regulations set in place by the state. Because Kansas’ regular turkey season has yet to open, the KDWPT said, only a small percentage of the nonresident permits normally purchased have been sold.
Turkey hunting in Kansas isn’t as big of an economic boon as deer hunting, but it is still a fairly large draw for nonresidents. Last season, the state issued 14,700 nonresident spring turkey permits, which compares favorably to its tally of 21,818 nonresident deer permits. Before the executive order being issued, the KDWPT said, 2,826 nonresident spring turkey permits had been purchased for 2020.
KDWPT is offering refunds and KDWPT gift cards in an effort to lower participation rates even further, according to a news release from the agency. Nonresident hunters may obtain their refund or KDWPT gift card by sending an email request to firstname.lastname@example.org. The KDWPT added that, as of Thursday, at least 500 nonresident hunters had already requested refunds.
"During this unprecedented crisis, we must take every measure possible to protect Kansas lives," Kelly said. "While turkey hunting is largely a solitary activity, the potential for inadvertent spread of COVID-19 due to travel associated with nonresident participation is something we simply cannot risk.
"(KDWPT) Secretary Brad Loveless and his staff have done a tremendous job maintaining safe spaces for us all to enjoy, and I’m confident they’ll continue their good work as we encourage everyone to enjoy recreational activities locally this spring."
Loveless said the state has seen growing concern about the impending influx of out-of-state hunters as the spring regular turkey season approaches its April 15 kickoff date, especially as other states take similar measures to close down their borders to nonresident hunters. The youth and archery turkey seasons are already underway in Kansas, meaning some out-of-state hunters may already be in Kansas.
"We’ve received a tremendous amount of feedback from concerned individuals, and at the end of the day, we want to do what’s right by our fellow Kansans," Loveless said. "Initially, this issue seemed self-limiting as nonresident permit sales lagged behind last year’s sales year-to-date. However, recently, as opportunities in other states began to diminish, nonresident demand increased at a rate we are no longer comfortable with."
Loveless said he understood the decision would come with some disappointment from those who were looking forward to this spring, as well as those whose livelihoods depend on out-of-state hunters coming to Kansas, such as hunting guides and hospitality businesses in remote parts of Kansas.
"There’s no doubt this will come as a disappointment to many of our out-of-state hunters and outfitters, and rightfully so. Kansas’ spring turkey season is something a lot of us look forward to," Loveless said. "But I’m also confident many of these same individuals will understand and join us in ‘recreating locally’ this year until we can once again travel without fear of spreading COVID-19."
Prior to the governor’s signing of the executive order, some former and current members of the Kansas Legislature spoke with The Topeka Capital-Journal about the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic from the perspective of the outdoors industry.
Former Republican State Sen. Garrett Love, of Montezuma, and current Republican State Rep. Ken Corbet, of Topeka, both expressed concerns about the broadness of regulations in place even prior to the order being signed. The state required that nonresident hunters from certain states hit hardest by the coronavirus would need to self-quarantine for 14 days before hunting or staying in a state-owned cabin. However, Love on Thursday said he preferred the original, targeted plan to completely shutting out nonresidents.
"I am thankful we can still hunt and fish, and while it’s always a great activity, it especially is now," Love, who owns Western Kansas Pheasant Hunts, a pheasant hunting outfitter in Gray County, said Thursday. "As far as nonresidents go, I think the state having separate rules requiring a self-quarantine before hunting for those coming from high-risk areas like NYC or someone who was just on a cruise makes sense.
"I do think the list should be targeted. There’s a big difference between Denver or Boulder and southeast Colorado right across the Kansas line."
Corbet, who owns Ravenwood Lodge in Topeka, expressed similar concerns when asked about the state government’s response on Tuesday.
"The question I ask, unless you’re locking down the border and nobody from out of state is coming to your state, what could a few out-of-state turkey hunters do?" Corbet said Tuesday, prior to the signing.
He also worried about how the virus response could affect out-of-state business by the time fall rolls around.
"For those who aren’t in the business, this is the time of the year when all of your game bird production fires up," Corbet said. "Kansas sells probably 100,000 rosters to South Dakota. So we’re trying to find out if Kansas is going to allow fall bird season for out-of-staters, because these guys, I don’t want them to gear up like they normally do and then September somebody says no out-of-staters. It’ll devastate them, because they’ve got a lot of money invested. It’d be terrible."
Corbet, who on Thursday said the move will mean a big financial hit for the KDWPT, acknowledged it was a difficult situation any way you look at it. He added a suggestion for those still allowed to hunt.
"The residents ought to push that to get their kids out to go get a turkey tag," Corbet said.