The Trump administration wants to expand access to hunting and fishing on 30 national wildlife refuges, including three in Maine.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced Monday a proposal that would open up nearly 250,000 acres to new or expanded hunting and fishing opportunities.

In Maine, the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in York and Cumberland counties would expand existing white-tailed deer and wild turkey hunting, and the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Washington County would expand existing migratory game bird, upland game and big-game hunting, such as moose and deer.

Additionally, the Lake Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge, which straddles the New Hampshire-Maine border, would open to wild turkey hunting for the first time and would expand existing migratory game bird, upland game and big-game hunting.

In each instance, hunting already is allowed in certain areas. This rule would simply expand those areas, although it’s not clear by how much. An Interior Department official did not respond to questions. The department plans to publish the proposed rule in the coming days, it said in Monday’s statement.

“As stewards of our public lands, Interior is committed to opening access wherever possible for hunting and fishing so that more families have the opportunity to pass down this American heritage,” Zinke said in the statement. “These 30 refuges will provide incredible opportunities for American sportsmen and women across the country to access the land and connect with wildlife.”

The Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Washington County, where hunting for migratory game birds would be expanded. U.S. Department of the Interior photo

David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, said it was too early for the group to take a position on the proposal. He said he wants to strike a balance between hunters and other users of these lands.

“We certainly can’t be hunting in areas with too heavy traffic,” Trahan said Tuesday. “We would have to look at each place case by case and evaluate whether hunting is appropriate in those areas.”

A spokesman for Maine Audubon declined to comment on the proposal.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Interior Department agency that oversees the country’s refuges, will seek public comments on the proposed rule for 30 days. The notice will be available online at www.regulations.gov, under docket number FWS-HQ-NWRS-2018-0020.

Presently, hunting is permitted on 337 wildlife refuges and fishing is allowed on 277 wildlife refuges.

Zinke said he hoped the changes would be implemented before the 2018-19 hunting seasons and he framed the change in economic terms. Hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities contributed more than $156 billion in economic activity in the U.S. in 2016, according to the service’s National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation.

This is not the first time the Trump administration has explored changes to public access of protected lands.

Last year, he directed Zinke to review 27 national monuments, including Maine’s Katahdin Wood and Waters, to see if any should be reduced in size or altered in any way.

After months of debate, Zinke did not recommend changes to Katahdin Woods and Waters but did leave the door open to timber management on the site, in part to accommodate hunting and snowmobiling.

National wildlife refuges are government-protected lands where experts monitor and conserve various species of fish, wildlife and plants. The system was created in 1903 and now includes more than 550 sites covering 150 million acres.

Maine has six refuges. The others are: Maine Coastal Islands in Milbridge, Sunkhaze Meadows in Baring, and the Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge in Limestone near the Canadian border.

The Rachel Carson refuge, named after the famed conservationist and nature writer, was established in 1966 to protect salt marshes and tidal estuaries, a habitat for migratory birds. The area stretches from Kittery to Cape Elizabeth and encompasses about 14,000 acres.

The Moosehorn refuge, totaling 30,000 acres in rural Washington County, was established in 1937 to protect wetlands that serve as a habitat for migratory birds and other endangered species.

And Lake Umbagog has been established since 1922 as a wetland preserve that is home to many migratory birds.

Staff Writer Megan Doyle contributed to this report.

 

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