Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

USFWS’s Thorson OK’s Mississippi refuge plan

By Todd Richmond Associated Press Writer

Onalaska Wis. (AP) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s top
Midwestern official gave the final go-ahead last week to a sweeping
package of conservation changes for the upper Mississippi River
that could trigger a messy jurisdictional struggle between the
federal government and Wisconsin.

Fish and Wildlife Midwestern regional director Robyn Thorson’s
seal of approval caps four years of work to design new regulations
for the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, the
largest national refuge in the Midwest.

Many river lovers fear the plan will curtail their favorite
hobbies. The agency took comments from thousands of people at
public meetings up and down the refuge, drafting and revising the
plan along the way.

The final version restricts hunting in nearly 5,000 additional
acres and restricts boaters’ speed in about 1,600 additional
acres.

‘This has been a healthy debate over what’s the right thing to
do,’ Thorson said during a press conference. ‘I wish people could
all be happier. In democracies, that just doesn’t happen.’

But Sandy Heidel, a 49-year-old duck hunter and angler who lives
in Brice Prairie, Wis., said the plan places too many limits on
people like her, and Fish and Wildlife Service officials didn’t
listen to anyone.

‘It’s trying to manage the people and restrict public access,’
said Heidel, a member of a group of La Crosse-area river users who
oppose the plan. ‘This plan is going to take away something they’ve
had their whole lives.’

Heidel’s group earlier this month took several state Republican
leaders on a tour of the refuge, including Assembly Majority Leader
Mike Huebsch, R-West Salem, and U.S. Rep. Mark Green, R-Green Bay,
who is running for governor.

Huebsch contends the new regulations infringe on the state
constitution, which says the state has a right to govern its
waters. He said he would go so far as to consider a law requiring
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources wardens to arrest federal
officers who try to enforce the regulations.

Green issued a statement asking the Fish and Wildlife Service to
repeal the plan and encouraging the state to sue if the agency
doesn’t comply.

Refuge manager Don Hultman declined comment on Huebsch and
Green’s remarks. Before Green and Huebsch responded to the plan,
Hultman said he expected ‘an interesting interplay’ with Wisconsin
leaders.

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, is a duck hunter with a home on
Lake Onalaska in the refuge. He said he asked attorneys to review
the conflict between federal jurisdiction and the state
constitution. They said it would be a ‘close call’ in court.

Kind said the Fish and Wildlife Service did a good job making
concessions as it gathered input. But the agency has to keep
talking with the state and river users, he said.

The refuge runs 260 miles from southern Minnesota to northern
Illinois. It’s home to hundreds of species of fish, animals, and
plants and hosts 3.7 million visitors every year, Fish and Wildlife
Service officials say.

The federal Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act of 1997 requires
national refuges be managed according to their mission to protect
fish, wildlife, and plants. The act calls for every national refuge
to have a plan by 2012.

Fish and Wildlife Service officials have been drafting and
re-drafting the Mississippi plan since August 2002, incorporating
input from 4,500 people who attended more than 40 public
meetings.

Under the final version of the plan, the Fish and Wildlife
Service will:

Place the first new restrictions on duck hunting in the refuge
since the late 1950s, closing off hunting in an additional 4,900
acres. Not all of those areas will be closed to all types of
hunting all year round, Hultman said.

Create four more areas where boaters can use only electric
motors. Currently, boaters are restricted to using electric motors
in only one 222-acre area. The changes would mean electric motors
only on a total of 1,852 acres.

Establish eight new no-wake areas covering 9,720 acres.

Hultman said the restrictions are needed to protect waterfowl
and preserve the serenity of the refuge’s backwaters for canoeists
and kayakers as well as young wildlife.

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