Seven major sportsmen's groups from across the country called on Congress this week to end the shutdown that has closed hundreds of thousands of acres of federal lands to hunting, just as hunting season begins.
They argue that the closure hurts hunters and the $144 billion wildlife recreation economy.
Barring an end to the shutdown, federal waterfowl production areas — popular hunting spots for both waterfowl and upland bird hunters — will remain closed when Minnesota's pheasant season opens Saturday.
The closure in Minnesota includes nine national wildlife refuges and nine wetland management districts totaling 481,000 acres. Nationwide, the closure includes 329 wildlife refuges and 36,000 waterfowl production areas.
"It's a slap in the face to all of us, but also to more than 37 million hunters and anglers who contribute more than $720 million in excise taxes for conservation,'' said Steve Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute and former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Those closed areas were often bought with duck stamp dollars, he said.
Howard Vincent, president and CEO of Pheasants Forever, said the closure of the federal lands will have a "dramatic impact'' on the pheasant opener, and will put more pressure on other public lands. His group called on Congress to reopen the federal lands.
Meanwhile, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement officers remain on duty, meaning hunters apparently could be cited for trespassing on the closed federal lands.
Minnesota conservation officers, as always, can enforce the state's game and fish laws on federal lands, too, said Maj. Phil Meier, Department of Natural Resources enforcement operations manager. But he said the DNR won't be directing its resources to look for trespassers on the federal lands.