Here’s where new acres could be open to sportsmen and women by fall 2020
This week, the Department of the Interior announced its latest proposal for expanding hunting and fishing access on National Wildlife Refuges and National Fish Hatcheries, which the department says would represent the single largest boost to access on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands in the agency’s history.
In a move that would benefit sportsmen and women in 46 states, DOI Secretary David Bernhardt has proposed enhancing recreation opportunities across more than 2.3 million acres at 97 national wildlife refuges and 9 national fish hatcheries. This is in addition to the 1.4 million acres of expanded access established last fall at 77 refuges and 15 hatcheries (including these eight hot spots.)
By our count, if the current proposal is finalized, 74 public lands would provide expanded seasons, clearer regulations, and opportunities to pursue additional species on areas already open to hunting and sportfishing. But the biggest gains are where additional acres would be opened up to hunting and/or fishing for the very first time.
Here’s where you could be exploring new terrain by this fall.
Under the plan, San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge would be open to sportfishing for the first time. There are no specific details on where fishing would be allowed, but restored tidal flats and salt marshes have improved fish habitat. And California’s pheasant hunters could see a longer season at San Luis National Wildlife Refuge.
Idaho’s Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge would expand its sportfishing areas, and on the opposite end of the state, Minidoka National Wildlife Refuge could expand its offerings for deer, bobcats, migratory birds, and upland game. Minidoka has also proposed extending its elk hunting area south of Lake Walcott to more than triple the acreage. Heading toward the border with Oregon, more sportfishing would be available at Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge.
Montana already has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to hunting and fishing, but if Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge is close to home, you could have more acres for turkey and deer hunting or new sportfishing opportunities.
In Colorado, migratory bird and upland game hunting would be expanded to new acres at both Alamosa and Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuges—and you can get from one to the other in about 30 minutes if it seems like a bunch of trucks are parked when you arrive. Anglers would also find new access at Alamosa under the Secretary’s proposal.
Washington is perhaps the biggest winner in the West, with five fish hatcheries and two wildlife refuges poised to offer more access. Sportfishing would be open for the first time at Willard National Fish Hatchery and Abernathy Fish Technology Center. On the hunting side, sportsmen and women would see a major expansion for migratory bird and upland and big game hunting at Leavenworth, Little White Salmon, and Spring Creek national fish hatcheries. Blacktail, mule deer, elk, wild turkey, grouse, and bear hunting would be possible across these three public lands.
In Arizona, Leslie Canyon National Wildlife Refuge would be open to migratory bird, upland game, and big game hunting for the first time. Cibola National Wildlife Refuge would expand upland and big game hunting to new acres, while opening some dove hunting in its existing huntable areas. You could also get a new opportunity to chase muleys in the deep backcountry of Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, where there is already a limited desert bighorn sheep hunt each December.
The only expansion for waterfowl hunters would be in New Mexico, on Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, where javelina and hog hunting would also be opened. Nevada’s Fallon National Wildlife Refuge would also be open to hunting for the very first time. Finally, everything’s bigger in Texas, and refuge access is no exception under this proposal: Get ready for four of these public lands to expand huntable acres for turkeys, deer, pheasants, javelina, hogs, and doves.
New York could offer more deer hunting opportunities by fall, which is great news for a state with heavy hunting pressure on public lands. Maryland could see new opportunities to hunt deer and migratory birds at Blackwater Refuge, and sportfishing would be open for the first time at Delaware’s Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. You sharpshooters who can tell a snipe from a woodcock would also get new acres to explore in Delaware. Finally, in Pennsylvania, Lamar National Fish Hatchery could open to sportfishing for the first time.
Illinois big game hunters would win new acres at Crab Orchard and Two Rivers refuges. Meanwhile, Great River National Wildlife Refuge could expand turkey season dates to further align with the rest of the state. Middle Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge, with multiple tracts accessible from either Illinois or Missouri, would open hunting for the first time. And there’s something for everyone, including rail, snipe, woodcock, doves, coyotes, bobcats, pheasants, and raccoons.
Migratory bird hunting would be open for the first time at Indiana’s Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, along with expanded opportunities for small game and turkeys. And new acres would be open to pheasant, upland, and big game hunters at Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge. Count anglers in for expanded access there, too.
Minnesota would get a little of everything in this expansion—on Rydell and Northern Tallgrass Prairie refuges—including duck, geese, coot, woodcock, dove, grouse, pheasant, and wild turkey hunting. And in Kansas, existing turkey hunting and sportfishing—for walleyes, largemouth bass, black crappie, and channel catfish—would expand to new acres at Kirwin National Wildlife Refuge. Existing deer hunting areas at Flint Hills refuge would be open to some small game, bobcat, and coyote hunting, while deer hunters would join pheasant, quail, and duck hunters for the first time at Quivira refuge.
Florida is a big winner in this proposal: The Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge—not to be confused with Everglades National Park, which is three hours away—would be open to sportfishing and migratory bird, upland, and big game hunting for the first time, in alignment with all state regulations. Big game and upland hunters will also find new access at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. Deer and hog hunters would be welcome for the first time at Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge outside Boynton Beach.
Not too far up route 75 in Georgia, gator hunters could have their first season at Banks Lake National Wildlife Refuge. And adventurous hunters can potentially up their (small) game at Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, which could soon offer armadillo, beaver, opossum, and raccoon hunting on both sides of the Georgia-South Carolina border.
In Connecticut, deer and turkey hunters would be welcome in new and existing hunting areas at Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge. Bonus acres would be open to bird hunters and goose hunters could get a longer season. Neighbor-to-the-north Vermont would get brand new fishing access at Dwight D. Eisenhower National Fish Hatchery.
The DOI proposal would be welcome news for saltwater and freshwater anglers in Maine and New Hampshire: Sportfishing would be expanded at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge on the southern coast and opened for the first time on the lakes at Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge.
Sportsmen and women in Massachusetts are within driving distance of so many of these opportunities, but they stand to gain a lot at home, too. New acres would be open to duck, bear, coyote, migratory bird, upland game, wild turkey and big game hunting across three refuges—Assabet River, Oxbow, and Great Meadows. And sportfishing would be open for the first time at Berkshire National Fish Hatchery.
Top photo of deer hunting on an Iowa refuge by USFWS Midwest Region via flickr.