The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is taking comments on a proposal to allow a limited number of fishing guides to operate on Lake Alice, Rose Lake and Silver Lake national wildlife refuges in the Devils Lake region.
Commercial activities are not allowed on national wildlife refuges without a special-use permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The federal refuges, which recently were opened to fishing, are administered by the service’s Devils Lake Wetland Management District. The comment period opened Wednesday and continues through Jan. 26.
Matt Sprenger, project leader of the Devils Lake WMD, said the service has received a handful of requests from guides seeking to take clients on Lake Alice, which is open to ice fishing for the first time this winter. Because guiding is a commercial use, federal regulations require the Fish and Wildlife Service to allow the public to comment before deciding whether to allow or deny such ventures on public lands, Sprenger said.
He said the guiding requests weren’t a surprise, given the number of licensed guides operating on Devils Lake and adjacent waters.
“We expected when Lake Alice opened and some opportunities on other refuges, we would be queried about that,” Sprenger said. “Three requests have come in so far, but there are quite a few more guides on Devils Lake, and if they see there is potential, we expect there would be more requests, as well.”
The comment period underway is just standard procedure, Sprenger said, and the service could issue as many as seven special-use permits for guiding operations. Fishing guides aren’t a priority public use in the National Wildlife Refuge System, but fishing is a public priority use guide services could help facilitate.
“Oftentimes, commercial activities are frowned upon on refuges, but in this case, it would open opportunities for the general public,” Sprenger said. “If someone from out of state or the area didn’t have the expertise, a guide could really help them enjoy and recreate on a national wildlife refuge.”
At the same time, he said, the service has to balance those potential benefits with public perceptions and potential impacts to habitat and wildlife.
Guides would have to meet several criteria before being granted a permit. They would have to be licensed by the state of North Dakota, possess CPR and First Aid certification and provide proof of insurance, among other requirements.
Sprenger said operators who employ multiple guides would receive a single permit allowing all of the guides listed on the permit to take clients onto refuge waters.
“We would monitor that ultimately in terms of how many total guides we have out there,” he said.
None of the licensed guides or outfitters in the Lake Region can take clients onto Lake Alice or the other two refuge lakes without a special-use permit. After the public comment period, Sprenger said it probably will be another couple of weeks before the service issues a final decision on the permit requests.
If requests exceed available permits, Sprenger said the service in the future would have to evaluate whether it could issue more than seven permits or implement a lottery system to decide who operates on the refuge lakes.
Guiding on refuge lands or waters without a permit is a Class B misdemeanor that could include fines of up to $5,000, five years probation and six months in prison, Sprenger said.
Written comments can be submitted by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing to the Devils Lake Wetland Management District Office at 221 Second St. N.W. Suite 2, Devils Lake ND 58301.