Recently, the Hunting and Shooting Sports Conservation Council (HSSCC) submitted a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue encouraging the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to consider the needs of hunters and state fish and wildlife agencies when evaluating access to designated wilderness areas.
The HSSCC is a federal advisory council that develops and provides recommendations to the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior to promote and advance hunting and the shooting sports. Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) President Jeff Crane serves as Chairman of the HSSCC.
In November 2018, the USFS issued a Draft Decision Notice for the Central Cascades Wilderness Strategies Project Environmental Assessment (EA), a planning exercise undertaken jointly by the Deschutes and Willamette National Forests to reduce negative environmental impacts resulting from increased recreation use in local wilderness areas. Though the EA is not specifically designed to limit access for hunting, the HSSCC is concerned the proposal could have a negative impact on many hunting opportunities managed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The review involves five designated wilderness areas in the Oregon Cascades that, according to USFS analysis, are being degraded by high-use travel during times of heavy visitation.
While the EA does not close the identified wilderness areas to hunting, it does propose the implementation of a limited entry permit that may negatively impact future hunting related activities such as pre-season scouting in the summer, which often is the time of year when wilderness areas are most heavily visited by the general public. Under the proposal, some hunters possessing controlled hunt tags would also be unable to determine if they could obtain limited entry permits until long after they have applied and paid for their tags. While limited to a relatively confined geographic area in this case, the issue could potentially influence future forest planning efforts that will impact hunter and wildlife managers access in heavily utilized wilderness areas elsewhere.
The HSSCC proposed a number of solutions including: providing an exemption under the entry permit for state issued hunting and fishing licenses, considering the fact that hunters often spend their time away from the most heavily trafficked areas; and a number of other recommendations to standardize the EA process associated with complying with the Forest Service’s statutory mandate to maintain wilderness characteristics.
The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and the HSSCC will continue to work with the Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service to better balance the public’s recreation needs including hunting and wildlife management related activities.
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