The Free Press, Mankato, MN


October 13, 2013

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


And every time a hunter buys a gun, ammo, binoculars or other outdoor gear, a federal excise tax is levied, once again targeted for the acquisition and management of such places.

Private conservation organizations — Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, among them — have turned over hundreds of thousands of hard-earned dollars to government entities for the express purpose of land acquisition for public recreation.

Locally, for the last 26 years, through dint of hard work and dedicated membership, the Blue Earth County Chapter of Pheasants, Inc., has managed to raise about $800,000, mostly used to purchase some 1,300 acres of land, some to become Federal Waterfowl Production Areas managed by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service.

And at least until Friday afternoon, all of this land bought and paid for by hunters was declared off-limits because of the shutdown.

Claims by the USFW of staffing concerns rang hollow, to be sure.

After all, while staffing might be necessary in areas with some sort of infrastructure — refuge headquarters buildings, for instance — most WPA acres are comprised only of grasslands, wetlands and woods — just wild and wide-open spaces.

What’s more, even when the federal government is operating at full strength, encountering a badge-wearing federal agent while hunting on federal lands, especially on WPAs, is an exceedingly rare event.

Hunters on federal lands are far more likely to encounter state conservation officers enforcing both state and federal regulations, instead.

A cynic might suggest that the real reason for the wholesale shutdown of the federal lands was based on politics, pure and simple, to make a point by inflicting disruption and inconvenience on taxpayers.

One can argue the relative merits of both sides of the political issue but really, there’s plenty of blame to place on both sides for creating this mess in the first place.

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