More hunting could be had at local refuges

by SCOTT SHINDLEDECKER
Daily Inter Lake | April 15, 2020 7:43 AM

The federal government has made a proposal to increase hunting and fishing chances on wildlife refuges across the country, including two in Western Montana.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt announced the plan last week, calling it “a historic proposal for new and expanded hunting and fishing opportunities across more than 2.3 million acres at 97 national wildlife refuges and nine national fish hatcheries.”

Bernhardt said in a press release “the proposed rule is the single largest expansion of hunting and fishing opportunities by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in history.”

One refuge area included in the proposal is the Swan River National Wildlife Refuge, located in Lake County off Montana 83 at the south end of Swan Lake. The plan would open the entire 1,960 acres to fall, archery-only, black bear hunting. The refuge was opened to hunting for deer and elk in fall archery season for the first time in 2018.

On the refuge, archery hunting for black bear would be limited to the fall, in accordance with the state of Montana seasons. In addition, all state regulations would apply including the prohibition of baiting or using dogs.

The other refuge in Western Montana that may see a change is the 2,800-acre Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, located in Ravalli County, south of Missoula.

The proposal for it is to open turkey hunting on new areas and places already open to other hunting, and expand existing white-tailed deer hunting and sport fishing to new acres.

More specifically, the proposal calls for open hunting opportunities for wild turkey on about 40 acres west of the Bitterroot River in accordance with state seasons and regulations. In addition, the refuge would be open for limited entry opportunity hunting for wild turkeys on designated areas of the refuge east of the Bitterroot River.

White-tailed deer hunting would be expanded to include archery hunting on 40 acres west of the Bitterroot River. The use of Deer B License 260-20 (either sex white-tailed deer) would also be allowed on the refuge beginning in September 2020. Sport fishing would be opened on approximately 40 acres west of the Bitterroot River.

Public comment is being accepted on both refuge plans and is due April 30. Comments should be directed to Ben Gilles, Project Leader, Western Montana National Wildlife Refuge Complex, at 406-727-7400 or Benjamin_Gilles@fws.gov.

These two are part of an overall plan to increase opportunities on nearly 900 new hunting and fishing opportunities (an opportunity is defined as one species on one field station in one state).

On top of last year’s expansion of 1.4 million acres for new or expanded hunting and fishing opportunities, this proposal would bring the Trump Administration’s total expansion to 4 million acres nationwide.

This proposal would bring the number of units in the Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System where the public may hunt to 399 and the number where fishing is permitted to 331. In addition, this rule proposes to formally open lands on nine units of the National Fish Hatchery System to hunting or sport fishing.

A number of sportsmen’s groups, including the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, have publicly voiced their support for the proposals.

The Interior Department intends to finalize the proposed changes in time for the upcoming 2020-2021 hunting seasons.

A complete list of all refuges and hatcheries in the proposal is available in the proposed rule. An online list of each proposed area may be found at https://www.fws.gov/home/feature/2020/2020-2021-Station-Specific-Hunting-and-Fishing-Proposed-Rule-Narratives.pdf