The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to expand fishing and hunting opportunities throughout the National Wildlife Refuge System, including opening up hunting programs on six refuges and expanding existing hunting and fishing programs on another 20 refuges including two in Texas.
As part of the expansion, migratory bird hunting seasons would be added at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge north of Rockport, and migratory game bird, upland game and big game hunting would be expanded at at the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge north of Austin.
The Aransas refuge is the winter home to the only migrating flock of endangered whooping cranes, and hunting for more abundant sandhill cranes is closed in the area around the refuge because the birds closely resemble one another. A Dallas hunter last year shot and killed a juvenile whooping crane while waterfowl hunting in the Coastal Bend. He was fined $5,000.
Under the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, the Service can permit hunting and fishing along with four other types of wildlife-dependent recreation where they are compatible with the refuge’s purpose and mission, according to a news release. Hunting, within specified limits, is permitted on more than 329 wildlife refuges, while fishing is permitted on more than 271 wildlife refuges.
National wildlife refuges generate important benefits from the conservation of wildlife and habitat through spending and employment for local economies. According to the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, published every five years by the Service, more than 90 million Americans, or 41 percent of the United States’ population age 16 and older, pursued wildlife-related recreation in 2011, according to the release. They spent more than $144 billion that year on those activities. Nearly 72 million people observed wildlife, while more than 33 million fished and more than 13 million hunted.
The Service manages its hunting and fishing programs on refuges to ensure sustainable wildlife populations, while offering historical wildlife-dependent recreation on public lands.
Other wildlife-dependent recreation on national wildlife refuges includes wildlife photography, environmental education, wildlife observation and interpretation.
Notice of the 2013-14 proposed Refuge-Specific Hunting and Sport Fishing Regulations will publish in the Federal Register on Sept. 24. Written comments and information can be submitted by one of the following methods:
Federal eRulemaking Portal Follow the instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. [FWS-HQ-NWRS-2013-0074]; or U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: [FWS-HQ-NWRS-2013-0074]; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.
Comments must be received within 30 days, on or before Oct. 24. The Service will post all comments on regulations.gov. The Service is not able to accept email or faxes.