All eyes are on the 401 national parks that are still closed because of the government shutdown and the more than a quarter of a billion dollars that communities have already lost as a result — a figure that grows by $76 million every day. Park closures are affecting local businesses who “fear bankruptcy,” rangers who are being attacked by Members of Congress for doing their jobs (without pay), and tourists who have sometimes waited years for their vacations.
But House Republicans’ continued refusal to bring forward a vote on a “clean” continuing resolution to fund the government is also hurting some of the most important users of our public lands: hunters and anglers.
Unfortunately, just as hunting season is opening in many parts of the country, many of the nation’s best places to hunt and fish are closed, including the 329 national wildlife refuges where hunting is permitted and the 271 refuges that are open to fishing. As the Fish and Wildlife Service’s contingency plan put it:
National Wildlife Refuges will be closed to public access. Visitor Centers and other buildings will be closed. All activities will be canceled on federal lands and public buildings until the government reopens. This includes hunting and fishing activities on public lands.
With nearly 150 million acres, the national wildlife refuge system is almost twice as large as America’s national park system. Moreover, the vast majority of hunting visits to national wildlife refuges occurs between the months of October and January, meaning that the ongoing shutdown will have escalating impacts not just on sportsmen, but on the local business that rely on their economic support. “The federal shutdown hits Vermont during one of the state’s busiest seasons for hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing,” said Vermont’s Fish and Wildlife commissioner Patrick Berry in a statement. “This is a time when rural communities across Vermont really count on the local revenues generated by hunting and fishing activities.”
The shutdown affects hunting and fishing on national forests and public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Army Corps of Engineers, and other agencies — or nearly half a billion acres. In these areas, many hunters and anglers that want to get to their favorite spot will find gated roads, closed campgrounds, and locked boat ramps. John Haughey of Outdoor Life confirms that: “The skeletal staffing means all pending federal permit applications, where required, will be frozen, and access to some areas in national forests, wilderness areas, [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers]-managed recreation areas and [Bureau of Land Management] lands will be restricted by possible road closures.”
The longer the House Republicans extend the shutdown, the greater the impacts on hunting season. For example:
- The 1.1-million-acre Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in Montana, where hunters spend more than 100,000 visitor days in fall months, is known as a “sportsmen’s paradise” for its big game opportunities, yet it is currently closed due to the shutdown.
- Archery season on all national wildlife refuges in Arkansas was supposed to open on October 1. Among the closures is the White River National Wildlife Refuge, which in 2012–2013 was the most productive public land in the state for deer hunting, with more than 1,100 deer harvested.
- The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that “Capable Partners, which helps get disabled hunters hunting and fishing, won’t be able to archery or waterfowl hunt in the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, as it has been doing in recent days.”
- Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada and Oregon has been labeled one of America’s “hidden gems” for hunting opportunities is closed, and holders of bighorn sheep permits that are considered “once in a lifetime” are being turned away.
- In Texas, the lottery for the big game hunt on the Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge — a popular event that serves youth hunters as well — was scheduled for today, but is canceled.
With widespread impacts on hunters and anglers, some sportsmen’s groups are calling for an end to the shutdown and have condemned the piecemeal funding approach that House Republicans put forward this week.
But not all Congressional members of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus have responded to these calls. Co-chair Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH), for example, has been among those insisting that Obamacare be delayed or defunded in order to allow the government to re-open. Co-chair Senators John Thune (R-SD) and vice co-chair of the sportsmen’s caucus Jim Risch (R-ID), signed onto a letter saying that they “will not support any continuing resolution or appropriations legislation that funds further implementation or enforcement of ObamaCare.”