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Refuges, to have or not? That is the question

Alicia Knadler
Indian Valley Editor
5/11/2011

If public opinion counts when it comes to the actions of a public agency like the California Department of Fish and Game, then the state game refuges will remain closed to hunting.

In a nine-page public comment against elimination of the refuge status, Senior Attorney Ralph Henry of the Humane Society of the United States and the Fund for Animals blasted the department over several aspects of its proposal.

Henry lambasted the department on behalf of 11 million members, including 1.3 million in California.

He thinks the department is more interested in opening up new hunting opportunities than in “engaging the public on this matter,” as called for in Senate Bill 1166.

The department ignores the true purposes of the refuge system, he states.

While some refuges were established only to protect deer in the 1910s, he shows how even more were designated to protect all wildlife in the 1950s.

He used comments from retired second-generation game warden Bob Orange that he read on plumasnews.com in November to illustrate his point.

He, the department itself and other respondents have mentioned that the failure of the refuge system in increasing deer herds may well be due to the lack of active management, something Plumas Audubon Society members have pledged to help with, as reported in last week’s article.

He and other respondents also want non-hunters taken into account, even though they are not who the refuges were created for.

“It is also important to note that wildlife watchers, and indeed all refuge users, will face additional public safety risks if the refuges are closed and hunting is permitted on the lands at issue,” Henry wrote.

Henry is also not the only one to charge the department for failing to conduct a good-faith effort to engage the public, which it was directed to do by the Legislature.

The department “provided the public with no scientific studies, empirical data or other objective information, instead providing its own conclusory opinions in a clear effort to justify elimination of the state game refuges,” he finished.

What it means to local refuges: Plumas County

In Plumas-Eureka State Park there would be no hunting, even if the refuge status were eliminated.

For Smith Peak, mostly Forest Service land, both general and specific comments were received, though the department did not go into specific detail, like with others.

Dixie Mountain, mostly Forest Service land, received a specific note. “There was concern that removing the designation would endanger a population of non-native turkeys and be detrimental to deer in the area.”

Mount Hough, both Forest Service and private land, also received rather ambiguous remarks, with “local concern about opening this refuge.”

 

Lassen County

Hayden Hill, public and private lands, including Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service and a small portion of state commission lands, received general and specific comments, yet the department did not go into specific detail, like with some others.

Blacks Mountain Refuge, including Forest Service and private lands, received general comment only, nothing specific.

The people have spoken

The department report includes the following summary of public comments received, including 18 points for and against elimination of the refuge designation.

There are also notes at the end of its summary lists.

Summary of comments in support of retaining state game refuges

 

The main themes of comments, or reasons, received in support of retaining the refuges were:

 

• Against hunting

• Serve as sanctuaries for all wildlife and prevents extinction

• Quiet places near urban areas, peaceful to visit

• Eliminate hunting and shooting

• Reduce damage to roads, reduce trash

• Protect valuable migration corridors

• Reduce development of land

• Reduce law enforcement needs as the areas are strictly no hunting

• Increase the costs to landowners and agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service

• Hunting would be incompatible with horseback riding, bicycling, hiking and camping

• Fear of hunters and fear of being shot by a hunter

• Economic attempt because of the state budget crisis to sell land and/or raise additional funds

• Catering to the pro-hunting lobby, and effort was driven by hunters

• Fawns and mountain lions should not be killed

• Hunters already have enough land to hunt on

• Opposed except perhaps for hunting considered absolutely necessary by the Department of Fish and Game

• Elimination of refuge designation would require CEQA process

• No increase in enforcement problems

 

Some of the themes are reasonable and/or reflect individual opinion, others may not be factually supported, or are misconceptions by the public.

An interesting theme that seemed to dominate public opinion to retain the refuge designations is that the refuges serve a purpose for people in modern society, rather than for wildlife populations.

These comments were provided through emails, detailed letters and survey responses.

Summary of comments in support of eliminating state game refuges

 

The main themes of comments, or reasons, received in support of eliminating some or all of the refuges were:

 

• Open some (a few) as a trial on limited/permitted basis

• Existing regulations can provide for regulated hunting activity

• Open refuges for which the designation is not relevant

• Increase the economic viability of America’s, and the world’s, wildlife

• The refuges did not succeed at achieving their purpose

• Refuges are poorly posted

• Presence of legal hunters would curtail poaching and other illegal uses, like growing marijuana

• Provides young people more chance to participate in hunting

• Provide more hunter access for California hunters

• Hunters contribute a lot of monies toward the refuges and conservation and should have access for legal uses

• Opens additional land for hunting which takes pressure off other areas

• Wildlife become an asset rather than a nuisance for landowners worth managing for additional income

• Higher income via increased sale of hunting licenses and tags

• Provide for well managed, responsible wildlife habitat

• California hunting license fees continue to rise every year yet hunting area opportunities lessen

• Refuges in the deer X zones aren’t needed because the quotas are so highly limited and controlled

• It seems all recent legislation and proposals have favored the anti-hunting community

• Decrease enforcement problems

 

Some of the themes are reasonable and/or reflect individual opinion, others may not be factually supported, or are misconceptions by the public.

An interesting theme that seemed to dominate public opinion to eliminate the refuge designations is that hunters directly pay for wildlife conservation, while the larger public generally does not, and hunters should derive some benefit for that economic support.

 


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