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Fishing and hunting on a refuge? You bet

The Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge, Wyoming.

At first blush it may seem odd that hunting and fishing is allowed on wildlife refuges, let alone expanding these uses as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently proposed. After all, they are wildlife refuges, right?  

However, hunting and fishing on refuge lands goes back to earliest days of the refuge system and with the passage of the Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act of 1997, Congress recognized wildlife-dependent recreational uses — which includes hunting and fishing — as priority uses in refuge planning and management. However, like all uses, hunting and fishing must be consistent with refuge purposes.  

The USFWS is currently seeking public comments on the proposal.  

This proposed rule would expand hunting and fishing opportunities in 83 national wildlife refuges and seven refuges are proposed to be open to hunting and fishing for the first time.  

While hunting and fishing on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service is straightforward — just follow the state laws and regulations — each national wildlife refuge has its own specific regulations. The difference in regulating hunting and fishing on lands managed by the BLM and the Forest Service and on national wildlife refuges relates to the Property Clause, under which Congress may choose to preempt state management of fish and wildlife on federal lands. Congress has chosen to do so in the National Wildlife Refuge Administration Act, as well as other acts related to the National Wildlife Refuge System.  

In many cases there are specific regulations for hunting and fishing on refuge lands — all spelled out in the proposed rule — and some lands may be closed altogether. For this reason, it is best to contact refuges directly to inquire about regulations. To find a refuge that provides hunting and fishing near you, check out this handy interactive mapper from the USFWS, which allows users to search by location and huntable species, as well as display fishing, hiking, camping and other outdoor recreation opportunities.    

Whether it’s fishing for “salter” brook trout at the Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge on Cape Cod, or hunting big game and catching big trout on the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in Wyoming, the National Wildlife Refuge System offers some of the best hunting and fishing in the world and there are ample opportunities for hunters and anglers.  

Moreover, refuges provide crucial habitat for coldwater fisheries throughout the country, as well as strongholds for both game and non-game species. Because of these values and the fact that wildlife refuges are managed primarily for conservation, the Refuge System is important to ensure populations of fish and wildlife are resilient in the face of climate change.  

There’s great fishing for smallmouth bass, trout and trophy carp on the Minidoka National Wildlife Refuge in southern Idaho. Chris Hunt photo.

As the Biden administration implements its American the Beautiful Initiative to conserve and restore 30 percent of the lands and waters in America, wildlife refuges have a key role in this effort. And with a history of partnerships, there are plenty of opportunities for collaborative conservation throughout the country. In the coming months you’ll be hearing more about wildlife refuges, so please stay tuned. Wildlife refuges are a great place to hunt and fish and working together we can keep it that way!