Feds expand hunting and fishing in national wildlife refuges

If you’re having trouble finding a place to hunt or fish, or if your favorite public spot has gotten too crowded in recent years, the latest news from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) could be of great help. , depending on where. you live. On Thursday, the agency announced new hunting and fishing opportunities in 18 national wildlife refuges on about 38,000 acres across the country.

“We are committed to ensuring that Americans of all backgrounds have access to hunting, fishing, and other recreational activities on the lands and waters of the National Wildlife Refuge System,” USFWS Director Martha Williams said in a statement. Press release. “These regulations increase public access opportunities, better align the Service with state regulations, and help promote healthy habitats for wildlife while boosting local recreation economies.”

It must be said, however, that on a national scale, 38,000 acres is a modest number. It’s less than the original 54,000 acres proposed in July 2022. And it’s a little more than a drop in the ocean compared to the 2.1 million acres in 88 shelters announced by the Biden administration in 2021, and the increase of 2.4 million acres in 147 shelters announced by the Trump administration in 2020.

Still, any increase in public access to hunting and fishing will be welcome news for many, and if you live near one of these newly opened areas, it could make a real difference to your outdoor prospects. Affected states include California, Indiana, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia and Washington, with new opportunities to hunt waterfowl, upland birds, small game, coyotes , black bears, mules. deer, white tails and more. For a full list of shelters and specific opportunities in each, please see the final rule here.

The ad has not been uniformly praised by sports groups. The National Shooting Sports Foundation immediately denounced the final rule, calling it “bait and switch” because the expansions come with the caveat that future use of lead ammunition in these areas will be phased out or at least under evaluation.

“The Service remains concerned that lead ammunition and fishing gear have negative impacts on both human health and wildlife and will continue to evaluate their future use on Service lands and waters through a transparent public process.” , the press release says, noting that the Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge will require lead-free ammunition and tackle by the fall of 2026, and that nine others “have begun discussing the phase-out of lead ammunition and tackle and plan propose the regulatory requirement for the use of lead-free ammunition for the fall of 2026 in the 2023-2024 annual rule.”

The National Wildlife Refuge System is made up of 568 individual refuges and 38 wetland management districts. Thursday’s announcement brings the number of units with public access for hunting to 436 and the number where fishing is allowed to 378. Under the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, the Service prioritizes hunting and fishing, as well as wildlife photography, environmental education, and wildlife observation and interpretation.

Meanwhile, some of the opportunities in the newly opened lands, like pigeon season and mule deer archery, are already in full swing, so now is the time to study your list if you want to take advantage.