Shutdown Hitting Hunters, Anglers, Others

Oct 8, 2013
In North Carolina the Blue Ridge Parkway (federally owned) is open, but the Pisgah Inn, a privately-owned inn on the Parkway is closed. Not because the owner wants to close-the owner, Bruce O'Connell tried to stay open- but because park rangers came and blocked the driveway, turning away anyone trying to get to the inn.

Skyline Drive, however, running through the Shenandoah National Park, is closed.

According to the Washington Times, the federal shutdown has closed the City Tavern in Philadelphia, and the Nauset Knoll Motor Lodge on Cape Cod because they're located on federal lands. At the same time, the Argonaut Hotel in San Francisco's Maritime National Park and Cavallo Point hotel in Golden Gate National Park are both open.

Reasoning? The Pisgah, City Tavern and Nauset Knoll are "concessions operations" and must close. The tony hotels in California are operating under lease agreements -so they're allowed to remain open.

Other seemingly contradictory situations are also defined by jurisdictional lines.

Many Corps of Engineers marinas remain open. All Park Service marinas are closed.

So what are consumers to do? Other than get frustrated, it's difficult to say. You can't easily get information from federal websites on open/closed questions because, you guessed it, the websites are shut down.

Call your Congressman? Good luck getting an operator. Government shutdown, remember?

Yesterday, a group of conservation groups leaders got on the phone with reporters from around the country to try and get out their message: the shutdown is having far-reaching implications on the long-term welfare of our national public lands and wildlife.

But it's hard to quantify damages when the situation's ongoing. And if you can't give hard facts, it's hard to give reporters a "hook" from which to build a story.

There are a few facts at this point. There are 329 federal wildlife refuges, all closed to hunting. 271 of them are closed to fishing, too.

Immediate impact? Huge.

After all, thirty seven million Americans hunt and/or fish. They generate $1.5 billion dollars in state license fees and another $720 million in federal excise taxes. Their total estimated impact of the outdoors on the economy is $86 billion dollars in retail sales.

But an often-overlooked fact is that wildlife funds had been cut to the bone before the shutdown stopped virtually all activities on federal lands. Two years sequestration has already taken more than 17-percent of previously-budgeted funds.

"And it gets worse," says Dr. Steve Williams, former Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, now president of the Wildlife Management Institute. "The proposed budet in the house cuts another $27 billion from the budgets. What was once three percent of discretional spending is now less than one percent."

"We're tired of non-proportional cuts in funding," he said.

"Hundreds of hunts should be happening on public lands -right now," said Desiree Sorenson-Groves, Vice President of Government Affairs for the National Wildlife Refuge Association, "they're not. Neither is birding, fishing or wildlife photography."

Further, refuges which she says some people believe need "no management" are in fact some of the most heavily managed land in the nation - and are suffering every day the shutdown continues.

"There are wildlife issues here that go beyond the fact that a hunter who's waited 20 years for your tag for a big game animal may lose that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," she said, "there are public safety issues."

Further adding insult to injury, she continued, none of the 40,000 people who volunteer to work on public lands (equal to about 70,000 full-time staff) aren't allowed to work.

For the Mule Deer Foundation's Miles Moretti, the shutdown is damaging long-term habitat work critical for all wildlife, but particularly those already heading for threatened or endangered species status. "Long-term habitat work has stopped," he told reporters, "much of it is time-sensitive, and we're missing it."

Further, Morettis says his members have no way of knowing what facilities are closed or will be closed for camping on public lands-even if they risk going hunting.

"It's frustrating," he said, "some hunters are just staying home. And we have no way of knowing if they're staying home for this season, or are going to stop hunting altogether."

And there's no trickle-down impact on the shutdown. If you're in one of those regions of the country where your "year" of business is three months long, the clock's running. And the lost dollars, like lost time in hunting season, is never found.

After all, says Williams, "hunting ends when the animals leave. Period. No makeup period."

The groups says their collective membership is frustrated, and the continued lack of access to federal lands will further pressure state lands, where hunters already express displeasure with over-crowded lands.

So what was the message the leaders of the Mule Deer Foundation, Wildlife Management Institute, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Bull Moose Sportsmen's Alliance, Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever and National WIldlife Refuge Association wanted the media to deliver to Congress and their respective audiences?

Get back to work- with a specific interest in seeing money for public lands and conservation guaranteed in any short-term funding plan, and passage of a comprehensive Farm Bill in the immediate future.

For once, it would be difficult to find anyone who disagreed with them in the outdoor community.

We're all losing in this situation- and probably far more than we're able to comprehend at this point.

--Jim Shepherd