U.S. agency proposes more hunting in wildlife refuges

WASHINGTON — Officials will ease hunting restrictions at 10 wildlife refuges across the country if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approves changes it proposed this week.

The public has until Aug. 4 to comment on the proposal. The changes, which would affect wildlife refuges in eight states, would take effect by the fall.

At the Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge in southeast Texas_ one of the sites that would see an ease in regulations — certain animal populations have grown so quickly they threaten other species and habitat, refuge manager Stuart Marcus said.

"We are definitely not controlling all the hogs and deer," he said.

Three units of land would be opened there to several types of hunting. Before submitting its recommendations to the Fish and Wildlife Service, a team at the site weighed the ecological impact of easing hunting restrictions.

"I couldn't do this every year," Marcus said. "It'd burn me out too much."

Ultimately, the officials decided the three units could support the hunting, which had been practiced there before the refuge acquired the land. Marcus said the reduction in population of non-native and invasive species, such as feral hogs, would be beneficial.

There will be other benefits, too, he said. The refuge gets about 700 hunting visits a year, and Marcus expects that number to increase to about 1,000.

But while new visitors could bring dollars to local businesses, the refuge itself will benefit only minimally from the uptick in hunting applications, which cost $15 each.

That's the point, said Martha Nudel, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which operates 553 refuges across the country. In setting hunting restrictions, she said, wildlife officials try to balance ecological concerns against their congressional mandate to provide places for recreation, which includes hunting.

Revenue "absolutely is not a consideration when we make a determination about hunting programs," she said.

Hunters and conservationists share common goals, she said.

"Hunters and anglers were very much at the forefront of land conservation efforts," she said.

As part of the changes, officials would open Crane Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota to deer and turkey hunting for the first time.

At Mississippi's Coldwater River National Wildlife Refuge, restrictions would be lifted on migratory bird hunting of duck and geese and upland game hunting of squirrel, rabbit and raccoon. Hunters there also would be able to shoot deer and hogs for the first time.

At Currituck National Wildlife Refuge, N.C., the proposal would lift restrictions on hunting deer and hogs. For now, the refuge in northeastern North Carolina allows only an annual waterfowl hunt from designated hunting blinds.

Nudel, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the agency routinely updated its hunting regulations to reflect changes in ecosystems at the sites.

Among the other proposed change announced this week:

  • Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado and Ouray National Wildlife Refuge in Utah would offer elk hunting. Ouray also would offer upland game hunting of turkey.
  • Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana would open to migratory bird hunting of waterfowl and coot. And Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, which is located in Minnesota and Iowa, would increase acreage for migratory bird hunting, upland game hunting and big game hunting.

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