A consortium of conservation groups claimed during an Oct. 7 conference call that the federal government shutdown is taking an inordinate toll on a routinely abused constituency: sportsmen who pump more than $1.5 billion every year into the economy just in fishing and hunting license fees alone.

The federal shutdown has closed access to 329 huntable national wildlife refuges, as well as all national parks and other federal public lands.

“I think Congress’s failure to act is really a slap in the face to all of us in this country, but particularly to hunters and anglers,” said Dr. Steve Williams, the president of the Wildlife Management Institute and a former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The shutdown could not have come at a worse time for hunters. The beginning of October is prime time for hunters, said Whit Fosburgh, the President of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

“Hundreds of hunts should be happening on public lands right now,” said Desiree Sorenson-Groves, Vice President of Government Affairs for the National Wildlife Refuge Association, “They’re not. Neither is birding, fishing or wildlife photography.”

Williams told in an Oct. 8 story that federal and state agencies bring in $1.5 billion every year in license fees from hunters and anglers — money that is being lost in the shutdown.

Meanwhile, he added, conservation and wildlife management budgets have already been slashed 17 percent by federal budget sequestration, extending a long-term trend in “non-proportional cuts in funding” aimed at amenities and services independently paid for by sportsmen through Pittman-Robertson excise taxes and other dedicated revenue streams.

“And it gets worse,” he said. “The proposed budget in the house cuts another $27 billion from the budgets.”

In addition to the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Wildlife Management Institute, and National Wildlife Refuge Association, other groups participating in the conference included the Mule Deer Foundation, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Bull Moose Sportsmen’s Alliance and Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever.

Sorenson-Groves noted a subsidiary, but potentially significant, effect of the shutdown: 40,000 volunteers, many from organizations such as Ducks Unlimited and Trout Unlimited, are being denied access to project sites on closed NWRs.

Below is a sampling of specifics from around the country on the effects of the federal shutdown on fishing and hunting access to public lands:

— In Alaska, the shutdown has suspended brown bear hunts on Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. The hunt was set to begin on Oct. 1. Hunters from around the country and beyond wait years for the opportunity to draw a tag for this limited, coveted hunt. They often spend thousands of dollars to finance an expedition, contributing significantly to Kodiak Island’s economy.

— In Wyoming, the shutdown has suspended bison hunting on the National Elk Refuge. Elk hunts are set to begin in NER on Oct. 12 and in Grand Teton National Park on Oct. 19 — unless the government remains in shutdown.

— In Minnesota, thousands of pheasant hunters who traditionally enjoy unfettered access to federal waterfowl production areas and national wildlife refuges in Minnesota and the Dakotas may be “in the position of having no place to hunt until the shutdown is over” when pheasant season opens on Oct. 12.

— In Florida, the National Park Service has “closed” Biscayne Bay and Florida Bay to all recreational activity, placing more than 1,100 square miles of prime fishing off limits. In an Oct. 4 notice, the Park Service warned Florida charter captains that they are prohibited from taking anglers into the open ocean … and that Park Service police would remain on duty to ensure they didn’t.

— In Illinois, the federal government’s partial shutdown has placed more than 128,000 acres of wildlife refuges and other lands off limits, including Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, a popular waterfowl hunting area west of Marion in southern Illinois. Crab Orchard draws around a 1 million visitors a year, generating $25 million a year for the local economy.

— In West Virginia, hunters are angry over being denied access to Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge and the 16,628-acre Canaan Valley NWR as waterfowl seasons open, including state Division of Natural Resources Wildlife Chief Curtis Taylor, who is questioning the federal government’s authority to deny the public access to public land. “I don’t think [USFWS] has the authority [to stop hunting or fishing],” he said. “The federal government might own the land, but the wildlife on those refuges belongs to the people of the state, not to the feds.”

For more, go to:
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