Last week, Safari Club International (SCI) submitted comments in support of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) proposed rule for new and expanded hunting and fishing opportunities on National Wildlife Refuges across the U.S. The proposal includes over 2 million acres within the National Wildlife Refuge System and the National Fish Hatchery System, including 7 National Wildlife Refuges (NWR) opened to hunting for the first time and opened or expanded hunting and fishing at 83 other NWRs. Over 300 individual members used SCI’s Hunter Advocacy Action Center (HAAC) to submit comments in support of the expanded hunting and fishing access.
The proposed areas will benefit people all across the United States. In addition to opening up new areas and species, the FWS is proposing to increase hunting accessibiliy to both traditional and non-traditional hunters through expanded infrastructure and special-access hunts. Here are a few of the highlights from the proposal:
Arkansas – Central Arkansas NWR Complex: The refuges already provide significant hunting, but they are opening new species and targeted youth hunts for deer and turkey. The openings offer a little bit of everything – some big game, some upland game, some furbearer, and some expanded migratory bird and waterfowl hunting. More information on Arkansas’ refuges and hunting opportunities can be found here.
Florida – Florida Panther NWR: The FWS is proposing to open hunting and fishing for the first time on this refuge. Although it is a limited opening of a spring turkey hunt, the FWS has acknowledged that hunting is compatible with the purpose for which the refuge was established, including providing habitat for the panther. More information can be found here.
Idaho – Camas NWR: Although Idaho estimates a population of over 120,000 elk, this refuge has been closed to big game hunting. The FWS is proposing to open elk hunting for the first time and to open additional acreage to elk hunting. The expansion of elk hunting on the refuge will help implement the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s Elk Management Plan, which aims to reduce the elk population in this Game Management Unit. More information here.
Minnesota – Sherburne NWR: The proposal will add gallinule/moorhen, mourning dove, and crow; it will also add muzzleloader hunting to the fall deer season, expand the fall turkey hunt, and add a spring turkey season for hunters with disabilities. More information here.
Nevada – Desert NWR: Currently only open to a bighorn sheep hunt, the FWS is proposingto openchukar, quail, and dove hunting for the first time. The proposal aligns this refuge with the neighboring Pahranagat NWR, which increases consistency and accessibility of hunting opportunities. And the proposal adds hunting access within easy driving distance to a major urban area (Las Vegas). More information here.
New Hampshire and Vermont – Silvio O. Conte NWR: This refuge spans the borders of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont. The FWS is proposing to open all acres in New Hampshire and Vermont to hunting and largely aligning with the state seasons, which means it will open opossum and furbearer hunting and expand existing moose, deer, turkey, bear, coyote, fox, groundhog, grouse, pheasant, porcupine, raccoon, skunk, rabbit, squirrel, duck, goose, and woodcock hunting. More information here.
Oregon – William L. Finley NWR: The proposal will open waterfowl and expand deer hunting on the Snag Boat Bend Unit of this refuge in Oregon. This is an important opening as there are few opportunities for public waterfowl hunting in this part of Oregon. More information here.
Texas – Muleshoe NWR: This is the oldest refuge in Texas, it has been closed to hunting for almost 90 years. The FWS is proposing to open white-tailed deer, mule deer, quail, and dove hunting for the first time on approximately 3,000 acres. Much of the land in Texas is privately owned, so public access expansion is critical. More information here.
Virginia: The FWS is proposing to open new species and acreage in almost all the NWRs in Virginia. The FWS is also proposing to add infrastructure to support hunting and fishing access on the Eastern Virginia Rivers NWR Complex. The Virginia refuges are close to densely populated areas, so they provide significant additional hunting opportunities. More information here.
If adopted, the proposed rule will open new refuge lands to hunting, expand acreage currently open to hunting, increase hunter access, add to the species available for harvest, expand season dates and hours, and add to the legal methods and means of take across the country. Given sportsmen and women are the country’s primary conservationists, the expansion will increase conservation funding, help to achieve state wildlife management objectives, and draw new hunters through added recreational opportunity. SCI will continue to fight for the rights of hunters and support expansion across the country.