Update: DNR to transfer fourm to non-profit group

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources will keep its online forum going for another month while helping transition the program to a non-profit group, the agency announced Wednesday.

The agency had planned to shut down the popular message boards on Monday because it no longer could afford to devote employee time to manage the forums. But outcry from the forum users and an offer from a non-profit group helped prompt the compromise.

The agency didn’t identify the non-profit group other than to say it is dedicated to hunting and preserving hunting traditions. Details of the move still need to be worked out, the agency said in a news release.

The government is breaking up a family.

It's a family of kindred souls who share a love of the outdoors. The members began connecting 10 years ago when the S.C. Department of Natural Resources offered an online forum on outdoors topics.

Now the forum has grown so popular that the agency's technology staff, pared down by budget cuts like most state entities, no longer feels it can monitor the discussions properly. The forum is scheduled to shut down Monday.

During the past decade, the forum's message boards drew nearly 8,000 registered members and hundreds of frequent commenters on a wide variety of topics. Although the back-and-forth on hunting and fishing issues often gets heated, this family of outdoors enthusiasts won't be broken up without a fight.

They have called and written to DNR board members and to the state Legislature to try to reverse the decision. They even started an online petition, which had 174 signatures Tuesday.

"This forum is a wonderful tool that has been used by many," Alan Gilstrap wrote on the petition. "It would be a shame for it to be shut down and lose the knowledge that is shared here. This place is like deer camp to most of us. I know there's a way to keep the campfire burning!!"

The state agency has heard the pleas, but it doesn't appear to be bending.

"It's a terrific resource, and I hate to see that resource go away," said DNR spokesman Brett Witt. "A good way to put it is it has gotten bigger than we can handle."

On Monday, for example, there were 38 new discussion threads with 921 comments in the deer-hunting section of the forum. Agency employees read those comments to make sure nothing extremely objectionable is posted. Very few posts are deleted, Witt said.

But with the agency moving to a new Web platform, the technology staff is going to be too busy in the coming months to monitor the forum.

"I know that's not the answer a lot of folks want to hear," Witt said.

He welcomed the people who post on the forum to switch to the agency's Facebook page, which Witt moderates. Some already have used the Facebook page to lodge complaints about the forum going away. But the DNR Facebook page, or one of the other outdoor forums offered by other groups online, just won't be the same, they say.

"There's a lot of people who have been active (on the forum) for 10 years," said Buddy Wright of Pomaria. "It's a gathering place for people who go there every day. People have become friends through the forum. There have even been hunt clubs formed as a direct result of the forum."

Many forum regulars suspect the agency is shutting them down because of frequent complaints about the agency in the forum message boards. But the complaints have been part of the routine for 10 years, Witt said.

In fact, agency employees often post responses to complaints on the forum, explaining the reason for actions the agency takes.

Forum users also question the real expense of monitoring the forum. Witt didn't have a monetary breakdown but said the oversight is more time-consuming than people imagine.

Barring a last-minute reprieve, the forum regulars will have to find a new location for their family gathering next week. Many already communicate with each other via e-mail. Some have recommended they all move to one of the other existing online forums. Others have talked of starting their own message board, Wright said.

They might even create their own Facebook group. One forum poster suggested they call it SCDNR Refugees.