Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Nebraska's Public Lands for Hunters Only?

Much of Nebraska’s public lands are managed by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Here in Lincoln County we have about 9,000 acres of public land from the 6,000 acre Sutherland Reservoir State Recreation Area, the 1920 acre Wapiti Wildlife Management Area, a couple of areas from 600-800 acres all the way down to 25 acre Interstate Lakes.

We had the opportunity to tour these lands recently with a District Manager from the NGPC to assess their tourism potential – how we could market them better, what activities might be suited for them. There are LOTS of rules and regulations governing their use. There is a law that if they don’t have “services”, there can only be a certain amount of signage for them. Understandably, no powered vehicles are allowed. There aren’t any trash cans at many of them. Why? Besides the personnel costs to service the trash cans, “they would just get shot up.” Those were also the reasons for not installing pit toilets at many of the sites, with probably the added concern of construction costs.

Which brings me to the main complaint of this blog post.
Photo above shows target-shooter litter at Box Elder Canyon WMA
I fully understand that the majority of conservation efforts in the United States is possible because of the Pittman-Robertson Act. This act creates an excise tax on all fishing and hunting equipment. The funds generated from this tax, as well as the fees from hunting licenses and special stamps needed by hunters and fishermen. Everyone who enjoys nature and wildlife watching benefits from the hunting and fishing on public lands.

My complaint is that NGPC public lands are managed EXCLUSIVELY for hunters, at least here in Lincoln County. Even our most basic request to be allowed to get a group of volunteers together to construct a walking/hiking trail system was met with this stonewall. “We wouldn’t want hunter/non-hunter interaction. All we need is for a deer hunter to go to all the work of setting up a deer stand only to have twenty hikers walking under his tree.

My question is: Yes, fees from hunting may fund the purchase and management of this land, but how much is it costing? Trash, shot up signs, dumped deer carcasses. NGPC can’t even put up signs, trash cans or toilets without them being shot up? No matter how much money they pay, do the hunters deserve these privileges?
Photo above shows a shot-up sign at Muskrat Run WMA
There are hunting seasons from early August (squirrel season – who hunts squirrels?) through May (late spring turkey). That’s ten months of the year? What if… during March, the peak migration time for the Sandhill Cranes from Ogallala to Grand Island, there was a break in the hunting seasons? We could have March, part of May, June and July for hiking, walking, geocaching, letterboxing and bird watching on the public lands managed by NGPC. We could build trails, construct photography blinds, run in adventure races, and not worry about disturbing hunters or getting shot while enjoying these great outdoor activities.
Photo above shows deer carcasses dumped at Muskrat Run WMA

Maybe only one or two WMA’s would be designated for non-hunting uses, not all of them. We’re not asking for much. But here’s the rub: Who would be willing to pay? Hunters and fishermen buy licenses EVERY YEAR, they buy duck stamps, they buy habitat stamps, they buy trout stamps, they pay excise taxes on their equipment. Everyone else complains when they are required to purchase a PARK ENTRY PERMIT. How are we going to generate funds to develop alternative uses for these lands if the alternative USERS aren’t willing to pay?

I don’t have answers, only questions.
Food for thought.

Thanks for stopping by. The coffee’s always on.

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