AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Trump appointee wants more hunting at Savannah wildlife refuge

President Trump's Secretary of the Interior wants to allow more hunting and fishing on federal wildlife refuges, relaxing regulations in some places, opening up moose and turkey hunting in other places.

Protected lands in Georgia would be included. Under the new rule proposed by Secretary Ryan Zinke, bulls-eyes would be on rabbits and doves at the Savannah River National Wildlife Refuge.

A U.S. Department of the Interior press release listing proposed changes said this about the 29,000 acres straddling the Georgia-South Carolina border, just north of Savannah:

Expand migratory game bird hunting, upland game and big game hunting. The refuge is already open to migratory game bird hunting, upland game and big game hunting and sport fishing.

The statement didn't elaborate, but Amy Ochoa, the refuge ranger who coordinates hunting at the Savannah River refuge, said the changes would allow shooting any water fowl that can be legally hunted under state laws. The refuge's water fowl list currently includes ducks and coots.

The proposed expansion would also add rabbits to the small game hunting list and doves to the migratory birds list, the ranger said.

The big game list actually isn’t changing, she said. It's currently limited to deer and wild turkey. The refuge also allows hunting wild hogs and coyotes, as well as fishing.

Ochoa said the hunting expansions were proposed last year by refuge staffers and have already gone through a local public comment and approval process. Next is the final process of being incorporated into federal regulations, which the secretary is supporting.

Zinke's proposed rule would also affect nine other refuges in six other states. In North Dakota, moose hunting would be opened for the first time at the Des Lacs refuge, and moose and turkey hunting would be opened at the Upper Souris refuge. Fishing from the bank would be allowed at Oregon's Siletz Bay refuge.

Zinke, an avid hunter and admirer of Theodore Roosevelt, has been expressing his desire for more rifles and fishing poles on protected lands ever since he became a cabinet member in March.

"I grew up in the mountains of northwest Montana, where I spent my time hunting and fishing on our shared public lands," Zinke, a former Montana congressman, said in the press release. "I was lucky to take my boys out on the same land that my dad and granddad took me.

"As the steward of our public lands," he said, "one of my top priorities is to open up access wherever possible for hunting and fishing so that more families have the opportunity to pass down the heritage. The last thing I want to see is hunting and fishing become elite sports."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will take public comments on the proposed rule until Sept. 8 at www.regulations.gov.

More information about hunting and fishing at the Savannah River National Wildlife Refuge can be found by clicking here.

NOTE: This blog has been updated with Refuge Ranger Amy Ochoa’s explanation of the proposed changes at the Savannah River refuge.

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