Hunting and fishing opportunities to be expanded at refuges

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to introduce or expand hunting and fishing opportunities across 2.1 million acres at 90 National Wildlife Refuges and one national fish hatchery.

Last week’s proposal would bring hunting and fishing opportunities to seven refuges for the first time. It would also open or expand hunting and sport fishing at 83 other refuges and open one unit of the National Fish Hatchery System — the Green Lake National Fish Hatchery in Maine — to sport fishing. The National Wildlife Refuge Act controls what uses are allowed on refuges; generally, a refuge is closed to an activity unless its specified that it’s open to it.

Muleshoe and Neches River refuges in Texas will be opened to migratory game bird, upland game and big game hunting. The Florida Panther refuge will be opened to turkey hunting and sport fishing. Featherstone refuge in Virginia will be opened to migratory game bird hunting and sport fishing, and Fisherman Island in the same state will open up for fishing. Franklin Island and Pond Island refuges in Maine will open up migratory bird hunting.

Once the proposal is finalized, hunting will be allowed on 434 refuges and fishing on 378. There will also be 22 National Fish Hatchery System units open to hunting or sport fishing. The agency noted that increasing access to public lands and waters is key to the current administration’s effort to conserve 30% of U.S lands and waters by 2030.

The proposal also continues recent progress toward revising refuge hunting and fishing regulations to more closely match state regulations, when that is compatible with the refuge’s conservation purposes.

The National Wildlife Refuge System consists of a network of 568 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts. The Wildlife Society regularly advocates for adequate funding for the operations and maintenance of refuges as part of the Cooperative Alliance for Refuge Enhancement. The Society is encouraging Congress to provide $600 million for the refuge system during the next fiscal year, with the goal of increasing funding over the coming years to $900 million.

The USFWS will accept public comments on the proposal until July 6. The agency has indicated its intent to finalize the rule before the 2021-2022 hunting season. A complete list of changes by refuge is available here.

Header Image: A new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal will expand hunting and fishing opportunities on refuges across the country. Credit: Dr. F. Eugene Hester/USFWS