The great Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas debate
A not-so-outdoorsy friend of mine caught me off guard the other day when he asked for my opinion on public hunting in Minnesota's Scientific and Natural Areas. I knew about the recent controversy around opening more of them up to public hunting but didn't really have a formal opinion on the matter.
For those who don't know, Scientific & Natural Areas (SNAs) are specially designated state-owned lands meant to preserve natural features and rare resources of exceptional scientific and educational value. Many are closed to intensive recreational activity like camping but are open to walking around.
So I did some digging around, lots of reflecting, and have come up with a definite opinion on the matter. To cut to the chase, I believe that if a hunter can demonstrate an understanding of the SNA, and agrees to low-impact use of the area, he or she should be able to hunt on the land.
The bottom line for me is that this is public property and therefore it should be open to limited public hunting. With the exception of a few slob hunters out there, most of us who trek through the woods in pursuit of wild game are low-impact folks.
My qualifier here is "limited" public hunting. If an SNA has plant life that is especially tender in the spring, then close it to turkey hunting. If the wildlife on an SNA is particularly vulnerable to human activity in the fall, then close it off for the fall hunt but leave it open in the winter and spring.
These areas already are individually managed so why not also individually manage hunting on these public lands? With the advent of technology and amount of information on the DNR webpage, why not create a small-cost "usage fee" for these areas.
Before hunting on an SNA, a hunter would need to go to the DNR website and learn about the SNA. At the end, the hunter would take a quiz demonstrating their understanding of the area and what it's meant to preserve. The hunter then pays a fee for a permit, screen captures their results on a smartphone or prints them out and carries it with them while they hunt the SNA.
It is another layer of bureaucracy, which I am not a fan of, but it educates the public and potentially drafts another knowledgable protectorate of a delicate area. It's not too different than what's done when entering the federally protected Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
More than 250,000 people access the BWCAW every year, and they all must pass a quiz to enter. The quiz asks questions about low-impact usage of the wilderness and compels visitors to demonstrate an understanding of the regulations that support the mantra of "leave no trace."
The BWCAW is open to hunting by the way and most hunting seasons are outside of the restrictive permit time period meaning that hunters can access the area simply by filling out a form at the entry point rather than visiting a permit station and taking the quiz.
The only cost to a similar system with Minnesota SNAs would be in setting up the quizzes and creating a form that hunters can print out showing their name, DNR identification number, and proof that they reviewed the information and took the quiz. A conservation officer could check this very easily.
These areas are open to the public and the DNR invites people to, "Enjoy the undisturbed natural quality of these sites. Hiking, bird-watching, nature photography, snowshoeing or other activities that do not disturb natural conditions are allowed."
I don't know about you, but most of my time spent hunting is spent hiking and bird-watching anyways. Why not let me have a bow or firearm, too?
Low impact activity by hunters who have demonstrated a level of knowledge about an SNA should be added to the list as much as possible. Restrict hunters from using motorized vehicles, treestands, and lead shot – much like exists on state wildlife management areas.
I believe that Minnesota's hunters can be entrusted to access these precious lands for low-impact hunting. I believe that it would only increase the number of people who support the SNA program and would defend the delicate wilderness of these areas.
Enjoying the wilderness without "loving it to death" is a difficult pursuit for management agencies, but when public dollars are in the ground those grounds need to be open to the hunters who provide the greatest source of funding for natural resource management. Indeed, hunters have always been the most passionate conservationists of wilderness areas.
Let us hunt on these lands so we can fall in love with them and join the fight to protect them.