GERMFASK - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials said the agency will reopen nearly 3 million acres in wildlife refuges t allow hunting, including at the Seney National Wildlife Refuge in Schoolcraft County.
The refuge sites reopening are located in 10 states and have been closed since Oct. 1 because of the partial government shutdown. The 95,000-acre Seney National Wildlife refuge is located in Schoolcraft County. The refuge also oversees the Huron National Wildlife Refuge situated in Lake Superior off the northern Marquette County shoreline.
The agency said Friday that despite limited staffing, allowing public access to waterfowl production areas on wildlife refuges will not cost any money or jeopardize public safety.
Staff at the Seney National Wildlife Refuge did not answer the phone today. Instead, messages saying employees had been furloughed or that calls would be returned after the shutdown was over were left for callers. Callers were referred to the U.S. Department of Interior website for more information on the government closures, but the website had no new update on the status of the wildlife refuge lands said to be reopening.
No information was available today on whether the entire Seney refuge would be reopening or only select areas open to hunting. No information was available on whether the Huron National Wildlife Refuge was included in the plan to reopen refuge lands.
North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple had threatened to sue unless lands in his state were opened.
Dalrymple said pheasant hunting should begin as scheduled this month.
According to Dalrymple's website, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe announced the reopening of Wildlife Service lands nationwide Friday after he was informed of North Dakota's intent to file a complaint in U.S. District Court. The complaint, already completed and within minutes of being filed, requested a federal judge require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reopen more than 288,000 acres of wildlife lands closed to hunters and other public uses.
In the complaint, Dalrymple and North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said the closures are unnecessary and unwarranted because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not, under normal conditions, maintain full-time staff on the lands and because there are no additional public safety or management issues created by keeping the lands open. Dalrymple and Stenehjem said the law allows closure only in exceptional circumstances, none of which are present.
Dalrymple and Stenehjem, in talks with U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials, said they were prepared to file the complaint at 3 p.m. Friday. Just minutes before 3 p.m., U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials said they would reopen the wildlife lands nationwide, Dalrymple's website said.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service's attempt to prohibit access to the wide outdoors was clearly contrary to law, which assures these areas are to be open to hunters and anglers," Stenehjem said. "I am delighted that Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to end the confusion, and to allow our sportsmen to enjoy a successful hunting season."
The Associated Press said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision opens hunting areas in 10 states: North and South Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Nebraska, Idaho and Maine.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.