Washington — Officials from a number of conservation and sportsmen’s groups on Monday urged lawmakers to end the federal government shutdown and re-open the lands upon which so many people recreate.
They noted that huge numbers of hunters rely on federal land – national wildlife refuges and waterfowl production areas, for example – to hunt everything from big game to waterfowl.
“If you’re a hunter, the beginning of October is the prime time,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
Federal lands have been closed since Congress failed to pass a budget by the end of September; the government has been shut down since Oct. 1.
According to TRCP, the shutdown has closed more than 329 federal refuges to hunting, and more than 271 to fishing. Some of those on the call noted that for rural communities, the short hunting season is the time of year they make most of their money.
“The three months of hunting season are like Christmas to many of these rural communities,” said Land Tawney, executive director of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “The hardship of closed gates and closures is not just being felt by hunters, but on local communities.”
The impacts to them, he said, are “real and tangible.”
Said Fosburgh: “According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, more than 90 million Americans pursued wildlife-related recreation in 2011, spending more than $144 billion. Given the substantial economic contributions made by sportsmen to our outdoor-recreation-driven economy – and given the shutdown’s timing, which coincides precisely as hunting seasons are getting under way – the impact will assuredly be substantial.”
For some hunters and anglers, the shutdown is little more than an irritant that forces them to find other areas to chase game.
But in some spots, hunters who have hard-to-get licenses and tags are facing uncertain access prospects. Hunters wait for years to draw a bighorn sheep tag at the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada and Oregon, for example, but the 57,000-acre refuge currently is closed.
It’s not just hunters, though. Fishermen can’t access Glacier and Yellowstone national parks, which also are closed during the shutdown. In addition to the anglers, many guides derive at least a portion of their livelihood based on guiding anglers on park waters, according to the TRCP.
Steve Williams, former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and current president of the Wildlife Management Institute, noted one of the common complaints among hunters is that public lands are too crowded.
Restricting access to federal lands exacerbates that problem, he said, and may push more people to state land, or cause them to quit hunting for the year.
“This is not going to be good for the state agencies,” he said. “It’s not going to be good for hunters on the ground.”
As lawmakers search for ways to end the shutdown, the TRCP says a “piecemeal” approach advocated by some – advancing small bills that apply only to parts of the federal government – isn’t the way to go.
“We strongly oppose the effort under way in the House to keep open only certain segments of the government, such as a bill proposed that would reopen national parks but keep wildlife refuges closed,”
Fosburgh said. “Conservation in this country is overseen by numerous agencies … Cherry-picking among agencies ignores the broader problem of how this shutdown is negatively impacting sportsmen….
“In an attempt to minimize spending, Congress has hamstrung a sector of our economy that consistently produces significant returns, year in and year out,” he added.