The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Columns

October 13, 2013

Even in the Great Outdoors, it's politics as usual

Late on Friday afternoon, on the eve of the opening of pheasant hunting seasons in Minnesota and several other states, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it was immediately re-opening federal Waterfowl Production Areas to outdoor activities.

It was welcome news to hunters and a refreshing illustration of how common sense sometimes prevails, even when up against the inexorable momentum of government bureaucracy.

In the unlikely event you were unaware, a partial government shutdown after Congress was unable to reach an agreement on the budget resulted in the closure of all kinds of federal entities from national monuments to national parks.

Aging World War II veterans who traveled on honor flights to Washington D.C. were turned away from viewing the WWII Memorial. Even the massive and expansive Grand Canyon was declared by the federal government to be closed.

And the USFWS had announced that because of reduced staffing levels resulting from shutdown, national wildlife refuges along with federally managed WPAs — small tracts of wildlife habitat found mainly in the Upper Midwest — would be closed to public activity, as well.

In this, the month of October when many fall hunting seasons are open, it couldn’t have come at a worst possible time.

Understand that if it wasn’t for hunters, the National Wildlife Refuge System that encompass some 150 million acres likely would be far smaller or might not exist at all.

In Minnesota, there are about a half-million acres of federal wildlife lands, including some 200,000 acres of WPAs, scattered throughout the state, most of them open to public outdoor recreation.

Virtually all of it has been funded by hunters.

The lion’s share of the $15 that hunters pay annually for their Federal Duck Stamp is expressly earmarked for the acquisition of wildlife habitat to become part of the national wildlife refuge system or Waterfowl Production Areas.

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