Updated as of Sept. 13, 2019: These changes to refuge access were finalized on September 10, 2019 after a public comment period. The Interior Department will indeed expand hunting and fishing opportunities on 77 national wildlife refuges and 15 fish hatcheries.
In a ceremony at Ottowa National Wildlife Refuge in Ohio this summer, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt announced a proposal to expand hunting and fishing access on some U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-run refuges and fish hatcheries and open new sportsmen’s access on others. This recognizes the value of hunting and fishing to the American economy and addresses one of the major threats to hunting and fishing participation—lost access.
“This announcement will benefit America’s sportsmen and women by providing access to prime hunting and fishing areas,” said Christy Plumer, TRCP’s chief conservation officer. “As public access remains a challenge across the nation, opportunities like this are a shining example of what we can do to support our outdoor recreation economy.”
A public comment period allowed Americans, including representatives of state agencies that work in partnership to manage wildlife on these public lands, a chance to weigh in on the changes. Important feedback and calls for clarification are addressed within the official rule posted to the Federal Register.
These are just a handful of the areas that will provide new hunting and fishing access to all Americans by the fall opener.
Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin
This series of islands in Lake Michigan, off the tip of Wisconsin’s Door County Peninsula, provide critical plant and wildlife habitat that would be open to hunting and fishing for the very first time. On Plum Island, once the site of a U.S. Coast Guard facility, shoreline-only fishing has been discussed, and deer hunting could be expanded to a section of Detroit Island. (According to the Friends of Plum and Pilot Islands, special tags have been available since 2016 to manage the deer herd on Plum Island.)
Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge, Wyoming
Areas already open to some hunting on this refuge in Southwest Wyoming’s high desert plains would allow deer and elk hunting for the first time under the new proposal. Designated units are already open to fishing and hunting for mule deer, pronghorn antelope, moose, ducks, and sage grouse, which actually helped give the refuge its name. Seedskadee is a botched rendition of the native Crow’s name for the Green River: “sisk-a-dee-agie” or “River of the Prairie Chicken.”
St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, Florida
The proposal would expand existing upland and big game hunting to additional acres on this refuge, which is home to both freshwater and saltwater marshes and some of the last remaining longleaf pine forest in the Southeast. This might include additional limited permits for deer, hogs, and turkeys.
Great River National Wildlife Refuge, Illinois and Missouri
This refuge, which straddles 120 miles of the Mississippi River along the Illinois-Missouri border, would expand its season dates for existing deer, turkey, and other upland game hunting to align with state seasons. The proposal would also offer hunters additional methods—currently there is a firearm season for antlerless deer on Fox Island and special permits for muzzleloader-only deer hunting in the 1,700-acre Delair Division.
15 National Fish Hatcheries Across the U.S.
Leadville National Fish Hatchery in Colorado and Iron River National Fish Hatchery in Wisconsin would formally open lands for migratory gamebird, upland game, and big game hunting. Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery in Texas and Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery in Washington are proposing to formally open their lands to recreational fishing.
Always check and follow all refuge and state regulations before taking advantage of hunting and fishing opportunities on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands.
Top photo by Joseph McGowan/USFWS.