I Went to the Conservation Congress Spring Hearings and It Was Much Friendlier Than I Thought It Would Be

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Last night was my first time ever going to the Conservation Congress, so I’m going to outline my experience for people who plan to go in the future.

My experience:

We registered between 6:30 and 7. There were white tables in front of the entry to the PAC, and we wrote down our names and addresses, and were handed the question packet and three voting ballots. The next table over, we showed our IDs and were given tiny ballots to write the name of the delegates.

We sat in a cluster of Alliance people so I would have the best chance of people finding me if they needed a cheat sheet. We all started filling out our white ballots, flipping between the question packet and the cheat sheet. The actual talking portion started a little after 7. The game warden introduced the event, and his words were supplemented by a powerpoint. He enunciated well, but spoke stiffly, and gave the impression of reading directly from a manual, the way that teachers always have to for standardized tests.

The first election was for the 3-year term. There was a period of time to nominate delegates. Two were nominated. Each took a turn speaking.

While the votes were counted, the game warden started to read through the questions in the packet. He read every.single.question, except for the local measures. I had mixed feelings about this. It’s good to have multiple ways to communicate information for different learning styles and intelligences, and it may have helped people with reading disabilities, so that’s very cool. But it was so dull and so long. We also watched a fishing video during this first hiatus.

After the votes were counted, they announced the winner – the incumbent, Paul Reich. The same voting process was then repeated with the 2-year term delegates, then more question reading as those votes were counted. The 2-year term delegate was also the incumbent, Melissa Smith. Yay, Melissa! I also liked Paul. He seemed like an ethical person who could get things done. Also, he looked kind of like Louis C.K.!

paul reich

The DNR guy finished reading all the questions on the white ballot, then we moved to the blue ballot. The blue ballot concerned citizen proposals, all of which were taped on the wall outside the PAC. The savvy people knew this and had already taken pictures with their smart phones. I was not one of those savvy people, so I had to run out halfway through and do so. The citizen proposals inspired a lot more crowd commentary than the DNR proposals.

We left right before they were going to read the questions for the green ballot. It was about 9 pm. I’m guessing the event went until 9:30 or 9:45.

I was definitely not the only animal lover there, and I didn’t feel out of place.

I was warned by others that the Conservation Congress can be an uncomfortable place to be if you’re non-consumptive (not a hunter/trapper/fisher). Because of this, I asked my mom to go with me. Even if she hadn’t been there, we had a contingent of maybe 15 Alliance people, most of whom were sitting together. The auditorium was huge, and there were only 200-some people there, so I was physically distant from the people who identified as hunters.

It is long, but there are multiple options to leave early. 

The only thing you have to physically be there for is the election of the 3-year and 2-year term delegates. That happens in the first hour. The rest of the time, the DNR reps read the questions that you vote on on the three different colored ballots. You can follow along, or you can fill them out ahead of time, especially if you have a cheat sheet!

I did enjoy the citizen commentary, and I learned a lot.

The reason to stay is that, after each question, there is an option for citizen comments and questions. It’s rare that what a citizen said changed the way I voted, but a lot of them were knowledgeable, and I’m glad I heard what they had to say.

“Conservation” is a bit of a misnomer, since the only issues we voted on are in regards to game species. Nothing about other wildlife, nothing about other environmental issues.

So, there are three different voting cards we fill out. The white is for issues that have passed their specific committees and will be enacted if voted on. I didn’t stay to hear what the green was, but I think it’s similar to the white. The blue is for citizen proposals. If those pass, they are sent to a series of committees in the DNR, and they may eventually become issues for the white ballot.

The white and green ballots only covered game species. The blue ballot had a range of proposals about keeping science in the DNR, doing a full impact study about the oil pipeline, making the voting process more transparent, educating the public, and my favorite, having online voting! When my mother and I Ieft right after the citizen proposals had all been voted on, her response was “that was a lot more balanced than I would have thought.” I agreed at the time, but I’m not sure in retrospect. The only issues where there was balance were the issues where voting didn’t mean that much. Assuming that it’s been this way every year, I think it says something that there’s significant disparity between the green/white ballots and the blue ballots. But let me know if I’m misinterpreting!

People really don’t like Cathy Stepp.

Which is, of course, totally justified. But my favorite part about the blue ballots is that they had at least three proposals that clearly had the goal of never having someone like Cathy Stepp as secretary again.

I have no idea how anyone answers all those questions without a cheat sheet, and without reading the questions ahead of time.

It’s just a lot, a lot of reading and information to do all at once.

A lot of the comments on citizen proposals were by people who cared about animals, the environment, or wanted hunters and conservationists to work together.

It was kind of inspiring.

OVERALL: It’s definitely not my favorite animal related activity, but I feel like it’s an important thing I can do for wildlife, and it’s only one night a year. I appreciate the option to leave whenever we want. I would appreciate even more the option to vote online, but I’m glad I went this year, and I hope to see even more of you at the next one!

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