20190606_new_refuges

A deer runs through a partially flooded field near Oreapolis Road north of Plattsmouth on Saturday, March 16, 2019. CHRIS MACHIAN/THE WORLD-HERALD

Many people have already shown support for the Trump administration’s plan to expand hunting and fishing at national wildlife refuges, local managers say.

U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said Wednesday that the plan affects 1.4 million acres of federal public lands, including 74 national wildlife refuges.

The plan would also allow hunting and fishing for the first time at 15 national fish hatcheries.

The changes still must be published in the Federal Register for national comments and review. That could force some changes.

The Interior Department says the plan is aimed at expanding access to these lands. It expects to finalize the plan by September.

Peter Rea, the supervisory park ranger at the DeSoto and Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuges, said there was a public comment period in May about proposed changes at those two areas.

“We didn’t get any negative comments,’’ he said. “We got more comments looking for other game species.’’

DeSoto already had allowed some hunting and is proposing adding a fall archery turkey hunt.

Boyer Chute would offer archery deer hunting and fall and spring archery turkey hunting.

Rea said many people think hunting has never been allowed at refuges, but that is not the case.

“For us, the two main things are to get people outside and enjoying nature,’’ he said. “And the other is for biological reasons, especially for deer, to make sure population stays in check.’’

Steve Hicks, the project leader at Fort Niobrara/Valentine National Wildlife Refuge Complex, said officials there are proposing lengthening the coyote hunting dates to start. The season would expand from Nov. 13 through March 15 to Sept. 1 through March 31.

The refuge complex also already had several hunting seasons.

“It’s really an attempt to get more in line with the state seasons,’’ Hicks said. “If the refuge can come into alignment with state regulations and still serve the purpose of the refuge, we want to do that.’’

The proposals, if approved, would mean that national refuges in Nebraska would more closely follow Nebraska Game and Parks Commission seasons where applicable. DeSoto would follow the Iowa Department of Natural Resources regulations.

Posting in the Federal Register is the final step.

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“It’s a way to make sure the public is aware of what we’re doing and so everyone has a chance to comment,’’ Rea said. “It’s public land, and we’re here for the wildlife and people to enjoy the refuge, as well.’’

He said federal personnel are walking a fine line to make sure there are places users can enjoy and other areas where wildlife isn’t disturbed.

He thinks the proposal is a good one. It supports the comprehensive conservation plan drafted in 2014 that created a vision for DeSoto and Boyer Chute for the next 15 years.

“A lot of people around here wanted that to happen,’’ he said.

Marjie is a writer for The World-Herald’s special sections and specialty publications, including Inspired Living Omaha, Wedding Essentials and Momaha Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @mduceyOWH. Phone: 402-444-1034.

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