There was good news on the outdoors front this past week with the proposal from Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to expand public hunting and fishing access by more than 2.3 million acres on 97 national wildlife refuges and nine national fish hatcheries across the country.
The proposed rule is the single largest expansion of hunting and fishing opportunities in the history of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency said in a news release.
“America’s hunters and anglers now have something significant to look forward to in the fall as we plan to open and expand hunting and fishing opportunities across more acreage nationwide than the entire state of Delaware,” Bernhardt said in a statement.
Conservation groups offered widespread support of the proposal, which would take effect in time for the fall hunting seasons.
“This is wonderful news for Delta Waterfowl members and supporters at a time when we all need something positive to look forward to,” John Devney, senior vice president of Delta Waterfowl in Bismarck, said in a news release. “With anticipated approval of these recommendations in time for the 2020-2021 hunting seasons, this expansion creates exciting new opportunities for duck and goose hunters when we hit the field this fall.”
While no refuge lands in North Dakota are included in the proposal, Rydell National Wildlife Refuge in Polk County of northwest Minnesota and Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge in Rock County of southwest Minnesota are among the refuge lands slated for increased public access.
The FWS has expanded hunting and fishing opportunities on several North Dakota refuge lands in recent years, including opening Lostwood and J. Clark Salyer national wildlife refuges to moose hunting in 2018.
In the case of Rydell, which covers 2,120 acres, its current “Closed” and “Refuge” hunting units would become three units: Closed, Hunt Unit A and Hunt Unit B. According to Gregg Knutsen, refuge manager, the 200-acre Closed Unit would remain as is, with no hunting allowed. Hunt Unit B, covering about 450 acres, includes all of the refuge’s public walking and biking trails and surrounds the Closed Unit. Hunt Unit B will be open to special disabled and youth deer hunts as it has been in the past.
The remaining refuge lands, about 1,375 acres, are adjacent to the biking and walking trails and will become Hunt Unit A.
According to Knutsen, Hunt Unit A will be open for the special disabled and youth deer hunts and also for new shotgun-only opportunities: spring fall and turkey hunting, ruffed grouse, pheasants, Hungarian partridge, tree squirrels, rabbits and hares, woodcock, doves and prairie chickens, the latter only for hunters who draw a Minnesota prairie chicken permit.
Waterfowl hunting will be limited to the two-day Minnesota youth waterfowl hunt, and deer hunting, other than the disabled and youth hunts, will be archery only, Knutsen said.
“Bottom line is we’re proposing to open the refuge to a lot of new opportunities, while still keeping the disabled and youth hunts as priority activities,” Knutsen said in an email. “For primarily safety reasons — due to the refuge’s small size and high public use — the expanded deer hunt will be archery only (following the state season framework), no rifles will be allowed for the hunting of small game, and waterfowl hunting will be restricted to just the two-day youth season.”
The restriction on waterfowl hunting was a biological decision, given the importance of Rydell’s wetlands as waterfowl stopover sites during the fall migration, Knutsen said.
Ducks Unlimited also was among the conservation groups praising Bernhardt’s proposed rule.
“As millions of people around the country feel trapped in their own homes due to the COVID-19 virus, having the opportunity to hunt and fish in the quiet of the wilderness or the tranquility of a lake is perhaps more important now than it’s ever been,” Ducks Unlimited CEO Adam Putnam said in a statement. “It’s vital to follow local directives regarding recreation, but there’s never been a better time to enjoy the solitude of our public lands and distance yourself from the crowds. This increased access will be important for our overall health and wellness both now and in the future.”
The FWS opened the 60-day comment period on the proposed rule Thursday, April 9.
More info: www.regulations.gov, Docket Number: FWS-HQ-NWRS-2020-0013.
Dokken reports on outdoors. Call him at (701) 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1148 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.