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.

Comments

  1. You have really hit on the issues here and similar to what we have to deal with in a smaller way here in NW Ireland. The hunters are mainly from France and somehow we are winning without restriction of time here.

    Time for hunting, time for safe hiking, it seems there should be no problem but as you find the vandalism "its my world, feck your" mentality of some hunters messes this up. It messes it up for the good hunters too, who go out to hunt to get good quality meat food they take home and use.

    There has to be something to prevent just leaving the carcasses behind, an awful waste.

    Vegetarians love Nebraska too. Hard to get that compromise from the meat, potato and heart medicine lobby.

    Getting the none hunters to pay, oh dear. Same problem here. I may be cynical about the vandalizing, selfish, can crushing, pharmacy guzzling hunters but I can be just as cynical about the "America Land Of The Free", meaning everything has to be free, vegan hippy nature walking tribes.

    Responsibility has to be the keyword.

    What is done here is an annual membership rambling association with an annual fee. Some of it is used to pay for signs and services on rights of way and some of it goes to group accident insurance.

    If you are not a member then it could be trouble. This could be done on a monthly basis with discounts for 6 and 12 months advance payments.

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  2. Great thoughtful comments John. Hunting CAN have a huge positive impact on the economy (especially out-of-state hunters who pay BIG bucks for their permits, plus have to stay, eat, fuel up, etc.). I'm pretty sure it's locals who are giving all of the trouble. All of my family are hunters, and I truly understand the need to manage the wildlife populations with the use of hunting. However, I do think there could be a better compromise of land-use. I do like the membership idea.

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  3. Its nice to hear a few individuals who have thought thru some of the real necessities with hunting. As for the shot up signs and dumped carcasses, "hunters" do this no more than "hikers" make short cuts in trails and leave trash, or "campers" burn nearby structures and vegetation etc... There are people who are the exception, and no additional regulation is going to curtail their stupidity. Hunters are by and large exceptionally responsible because if they aren't, they lose their access to the sport and tradition. As for equal land use, just know that without hunters/hunting you don't have access to those lands - period. There are plenty of other places specifically designated to walking, jogging, nature walking, etc where a hunter cannot pursue the game there. It goes both ways. We all ought to be appreciative of what we have and not seek to make everything equal use across the board. The truth is, we have equal access, just use the area for its designated purpose - no one said you can't hunt. You can enjoy the areas just as well as hunters - just learn to walk "off trail." Not every part of the state needs be developed for human use. The membership idea is terrible. Over-regulating use is one of the best ways to discourage anyone from continuing to do the things they love. If every month or year you were nailed with a new regulation or fee or membership or what have you it wouldn't take long to get fed up and find another way to occupy your time. You might say "I'm only talking about a one-time change/fee alteration," but when has that ever actually been the case and where does it end?

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    Replies
    1. Sorry it took me so long to reply to your comment - it is very well thought out and articulated. There are definitely many angles to consider in land use and making areas attractive for both hunting and non-hunting use. We're working locally to make a local area accessible in the spring for the Sandhill Crane migration. Which should work out well as it's for the most part between hunting seasons.

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