A proposed expansion of hunting opportunities would give hunters access to an additional 3,800 acres at Willapa National Wildlife Refuge.
If approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this year, the changes would expand areas for waterfowl and big-game hunting.
Willapa is just one of 20 refuges where the service wants to increase existing hunting and fishing programs. The service also is proposing to open hunting on six refuges.
Under the proposal, one section of south Willapa Bay would be open for waterfowl hunting, while another would be opened for big-game hunting.
The big-game hunting expansion comes with a prohibition on the use of centerfire and rimfire rifles, guns typically used by hunters.
“This is a safety issue,” said Nancy Holman, visitor services manager at the refuge near Long Beach. “The refuge boundaries are a slim piece of land on a point at the southern end of the bay, and there are some residences and some private timberlands nearby.”
If approved, the changes would take effect for the 2014-15 hunting season.
Holman said the refuge had submitted the proposal in January, anticipating they would be approved in time for this fall’s seasons. But budget cuts slowed the process enough that approval would not come in time for this year.
The proposed expansion is consistent with the refuge’s mission.
“People sometimes confuse wildlife refuges with wildlife sanctuaries,” Holman said. “Our mission is we manage for wildlife first and then we are encouraged to support public use activities.”
Among the other proposals is expanding migratory bird hunting at Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in Washington and Oregon. The refuge is already open to fishing.
This is one of the largest expansions of hunting and fishing opportunities on wildlife refuges in recent years, according to Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Under the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, the service can allow hunting and fishing along with four other types of wildlife-dependent recreation. Hunting, in some form, is permitted on more than 329 wildlife refuges. Fishing is permitted on more than 271 wildlife refuges.
The other permissible activities are wildlife photography, environmental education, wildlife observation and interpretation.
“Keeping our hunting and angling heritage strong by providing more opportunities on our refuges will not only help raise up a new generation of conservationists, but also support local businesses and create jobs in local communities,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a news release.
Visitation and use of national wildlife refuges also support the conservation of wildlife and habitat through spending and employment in local economies. According to the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, more than 90 million Americans, or 41 percent of the United States’ population age 16 and older, pursued wildlife-related recreation in 2011. They spent more than $144 billion that year.
Proposed hunting expansion
—Open an additional 2,600 acres for waterfowl hunting in south Willapa Bay.
—Opens an additional 1,200 acres to deer and elk hunting in the Lewis, Porter Point and a portion of the Riekkola units. Hunters would not be able to use centerfire or rimfire rifles.
—Reopen the Lewis Unit, currently closed to public use, for waterfowl hunting.
—Would allow waterfowl hunting on the Porter Unit seven days a week, up from the current three days a week.
You can learn more at fws.gov/refuge/willapa/visitor—activities/hunting.html
The proposals: Comments, materials and supporting documents are available for public inspection at regulations.gov under docket number FWS-HQ-NWRS-2013-0074.
To comment: Written comments and information can be submitted by one of the following methods: Go to regulations.gov/#!home and follow the instructions for submitting comments for this docket number, or by U.S. mail to Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-HQ-NWRS-2013-0074; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042—PDM; Arlington, VA 22203. Comments must be received on or before Oct. 24.
Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640 jeff.mayor@ thenewstribune.com thenewstribune.com/outdoors