Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Has the Government Shutdown Impacted your Fishing and Hunting

Morning Cast photo by Bryan Husky
October is prime time for fishing and hunting.  Summer steelhead are lingering in rivers and waterfowl, upland bird and big game hunting seasons are open.  This time of year a lot of sportsmen rely on access to public land for hunting and fishing. 

Last week when I heard about the government shut down I didn't think it would affect me to much.  But when I called the Vale District BLM office to confirm a meeting an answering machine said the office would be closed until the government shutdown was resolved. My meeting was canceled. 

As the weekend approached I thought, this will be over by next week but how is this affecting other people, especially sportsmen that hunt and fish on public land.  As I talked with friends I heard stories of BLM rangers trying to kick campers out of campgrounds on the Deschutes, closed signs placed at boat ramps on the Madison River and places such as Hart Mountain Refuge are closed to visitors.

Due to congressional dysfunction and failing to pass a new budget, federal government agencies such as the BLM, National Forest and Nation Wildlife Refuge System have been shut down and over 80,000 federal employees furloughed and sportsmen opportunities are being impacted.

Southeast Oregon public land.
Millions of sportsmen rely on public access such as BLM land, national wildlife refuges and nation forest to access prime hunting and fishing areas. The closures will not only hurt sportsmen it hurts the communities that depend on dollars spent by sportsmen and other outdoor enthusiasts. Hunting guides and others make most of their annual income during hunting season. "Unlike federal furloughed employees who are going to get paid whenever this shutdown ends, these communities are not," said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. "The hunting season ends when it ends. The animals leave when they leave. So this is forgone revenue that they won't be getting back."

Impacts on Hunters and Anglers by TRCP:

Until the shutdown is resolved, hunters and anglers will have access to some, but not all federal lands. Immediate impacts come in the form of facility closures and the closure of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Non-developed destinations without controlled access remain largely open. 

National Wildlife Refuge System Closures: Just days after the Interior Department announced expanded hunting opportunities on national wildlife refuges, all 561 - including those that allow hunting and angling - were closed to public access. The national wildlife refuge system totals over 150 million acres, which is nearly twice as large as the national park system.

 Notable National Wildlife Refuge Closures: 

Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge (1.1 mil acres) in Montana, where hunters spend more than 100,000 visitor days in fall months, is currently closed due to the shutdown. 

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge (1.92 mil acres) in Alaska, attracts 1.1 million annual visitors and is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the Kenai Peninsula. Popular fall hunt programs are currently on hold. 

 Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge (57,000 acres) in Nevada and Oregon, where hunters wait years to draw a bighorn sheep tag, is closed due to the shutdown. 

 Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge (59,000 acres) Hunters who have drawn one of its coveted elk tags are being turned away due to the shutdown. 

National Park Closures: Fall is a popular time for anglers to visit national parks like Yellowstone, Glacier and many others. Many anglers hire licensed outfitters, whose livelihood depends on access to these parks. All national parks have been closed due to the shutdown. 

 BLM Closures: Outfitters, hunters and anglers will not have access to 4,000 visitor centers, facilities, campgrounds, boat ramps and other recreation sites because they are closed. 

 Corps of Engineers Recreation Areas: Campgrounds, boat launches and other facilities have been closed due to the shutdown. 

 Forest Service: Recreational activities such as Forest Service cabin rentals have been suspended during the shutdown. Certain campgrounds have been closed due to the shutdown. 

 State Lands: The shutdown has led to friction between federal land management agencies and some state governments. For example, though the Fish and Wildlife Service has closed refuges to hunting in Wisconsin, state officials have refused to adhere to a directive from the National Park Service to close certain state parks and other recreation areas operated with joint state/federal funding. 

 Approximately 7,825 of the USFWS's 9,551 employees; 24,000 of 28,700 Forest Service employees; and 10,250 of 10,800 BLM workers have been furloughed. As a result, resource management planning, NEPA reviews, and other critical natural resource management activities have ground to a halt. 

Has the shutdown affected your fishing or hunting? Please share your stories.