Interior Dept. proposes new hunting and fishing regulations for refuges, hatcheries

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announces plans to expand hunting and fishing access in the nation’s wildlife refuges Wednesday in Oak Harbor, Ohio. The plan affects 1.4 million acres on federal public lands. (AP Photo / John Seewer)

U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt has announced a proposal for new or expanded hunting and fishing opportunities across national wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries managed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The proposal, which would cover 74 wildlife refuges and 15 fish hatcheries across more than 1.4 million acres, is one part of the Trump administration’s efforts to increase access to public lands.

“This proposal is executing on that directive by opening and increasing more access to hunting and fishing by the Fish and Wildlife Service at more stations and across more acres than ever before,” Bernhardt said in a press release.

The proposal would affect nine refuges or hatcheries in Oklahoma, including Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge in Alfalfa County near Jet. Refuge manager Shane Kasson said the proposal would help streamline federal regulations with state regulations, allowing sportsmen and women to hunt species of dove, feral hogs and a new limited-draw hunt for wild turkey on 9,555 acres for the first time.

“By aligning our refuge regulations with our state partners, we are reducing confusion and the regulatory burden on the American public, helping ensure the tradition and benefits of hunting and fishing can continue,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Principal Deputy Director Margaret Everson said in a press release.

The proposal also will expand existing migratory game bird, upland game and big game hunting to new acres within the Salt Plains refuge to make it easier on hunters to better distinguish its hunting areas.

“There’s a weird boundary, I don’t know why it was established that way, but it creates some confusion where the designated public hunting area is and where the non-hunting area begins,” Kasson said. “We just squared that off with the county roads in our boundary to make that area easier for sportsmen to identify.”

Members of Salt Plains’ U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worked with other regional and state members of the Department of Interior to help form this proposal, which will accept comments from the public on the proposal at http://www.regulations.gov, docket number FWS-HQ-NWRS-2019-0040.

The service intends to finalize the proposed changes in time for the upcoming 2019-20 hunting seasons.

“Hunting and fishing are more than just traditional pastimes as they are also vital to the conservation of our lands and waters, our outdoor recreation economy, and our American way of life,” Bernhardt said. “These refuges and hatcheries provide incredible opportunities for sportsmen and women and their families across the country to pass on a fishing and hunting heritage to future generations and connect with wildlife.”

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