Leadbetter elk

Some of the Peninsula’s resident elk lope along the shore of Willapa Bay within the wildlife refuge’s Leadbetter Unit, which will be opened to muzzleloader hunting under a Trump administration plan.

LONG BEACH — The Trump administration plans to expand hunting on national wildlife refuges, including those in Pacific County.

This proposal includes expansion of existing big game hunting opportunities at Willapa National Wildlife Refuge, including elk and deer hunting in the South Bay and Nemah Units and a special permit muzzleloader elk hunt at the Leadbetter Point Unit.

According to a Trump press release, “Continuing the Trump Administration’s significant efforts to increase recreational access on public lands, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt announced … a historic proposal for new and expanded hunting and fishing opportunities across more than 2.3 million acres at 97 national wildlife refuges and 9 national fish hatcheries. This proposed rule is the single largest expansion of hunting and fishing opportunities by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in history.”

“America’s hunters and anglers now have something significant to look forward to in the fall as we plan to open and expand hunting and fishing opportunities across more acreage nationwide than the entire state of Delaware,” said Secretary Bernhardt. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Hunt Fish Chiefs have been instrumental in our effort over the past two years to streamline our regulations and identify new opportunities for sportsmen and women like no other previous administration.”

This proposed rule would create nearly 900 distinct 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.

Local details

Expanded hunting at three units of the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge for the 2020-2021 season is proposed to include:

• South Bay — “We propose to open 396 acres at the South Bay Unit (Porter Point and Lewis) to elk and deer hunting for the first time, in adherence to the Washington state and refuge-specific regulations in place at adjacent Refuge lands, including a firearms restriction on the use of centerfire and rimfire rifles.”

• Nemah — “We propose to open 143 acres at the Nemah Unit to elk and deer hunting for the first time, in adherence to Washington state regulations.”

• Leadbetter Point — “We propose to open 2,181 acres at the Leadbetter Point Unit to a regulated (permit or hunt-by-reservation) early muzzleloader elk season, as well as occasional special elk hunts, as needed. This unit is currently open for waterfowl hunting.”

Local comments invited

The refuge seeks public comments on the Draft Compatibility Determination before April 30. Once completed, the final Compatibility Determination will establish new hunting regulations and locations for refuge lands.

“The change to the huntable acreage is a minor amendment to existing regulations and is therefore covered under a Categorical Exclusion,” the refuge said. “We are seeking comments on the Draft Compatibility Determination for the expansion of big game hunting.”

Written comments may be mailed to: Willapa National Wildlife Refuge, Attention Hunt Plan Comment, 3888 SR 101, Ilwaco, WA 98624. They may also be submitted via email to willapa@fws.gov. Please specify “Willapa Hunt Plan Comment” in the subject line.

Federal-level comments

The Fish and Wildlife Service seeks comments from the public on the proposed rule for 60 days, beginning with publication in the Federal Register on April 9. The notice is available at http://www.regulations.gov, Docket Number: FWS-HQ-NWRS-2020-0013, and includes details on how to submit comments.

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. View an online list and map.

Groups express support

National pro-hunting groups expressed support for the changes, according to the Interior Department.

“Today’s announcement by Secretary Bernhardt is welcome news for sportsmen and conservationists across the country. Expanded hunting and fishing access creates enhanced opportunities to better conserve and protect the environments we serve,” said Coastal Conservation Association Florida Chairman J.D. Dickenson. “Opening more than 2 million acres of federal lands for public access not only boosts our economy but provides a gateway to transformative outdoor exploration and conservation opportunities for today’s sportsmen and for generations to come.”

“On behalf of Safari Club International and our members, thank you President Donald Trump and Secretary David Bernhardt for continuing to prioritize American sportsmen by opening up and expanding opportunities across 2.3 million acres of public lands,” said Safari Club International (SCI) CEO W. Laird Hamberlin. “Hunting and fishing are an integral part of our nation’s culture, economy and care for the land. Increasing access and opportunities for people to take part in our sporting heritage strengthens broader conservation efforts. By delivering on their promise to improve and increase hunting and fishing access, this Administration continues to be a champion for America’s sportsmen, wildlife and wild places.”

“RMEF applauds Secretary Bernhardt for proposing to expand public hunting and fishing access at the nation’s wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries,” said President & CEO of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation R. Kyle Weaver. “The 2020-2021 station-specific proposed rule for these facilities gives hunters and anglers new opportunities and access to 2.3 million acres of public lands and waters, building on the 1.4 million acres the Secretary opened and expanded access to last year. Opening and securing quality public access for hunters, hikers, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy lies at the heart of the RMEF mission to ensure the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage. Expanded access at refuges and hatcheries gives recreationists immediate opportunities to practice safe, social distancing while enjoying the outdoors and long-term benefits to wildlife management.”

“The initiatives by U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt in 2019 to increase hunting and fishing opportunities on more than 1.4 million acres nationwide, are unprecedented,” said Executive Director of the Houston Safari Club Foundation/Houston Safari Club Joe Betar. “We look forward to the Department of the Interior’s continued expansion of public land access for recreation in 2020.”

New proposed refuge opportunities include the opening of migratory bird hunting, upland game hunting, big game hunting, and sport fishing at Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge in Florida for the first time; the opening of Bamforth National Wildlife Refuge in Wyoming to upland game and big game hunting for the first time; and opening sport fishing for the first time and expanding existing migratory bird, upland game and big game hunting to new acres at Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge in West Virginia.

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