Cokeville Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is one of several refuges that could be opened to hunting. (Photo courtesy USFWS/Tom Koerner)
Cokeville Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is one of several refuges that could be opened to hunting. (Photo courtesy USFWS/Tom Koerner — click to enlarge)

Hunting proposed for Cokeville Meadows National Wildlife Refuge

By Kelsey Dayton
— October 1, 2013

Kelsey Dayton
Kelsey Dayton

When Armond Acri of Jackson goes waterfowl hunting, it often involves a lot of driving. He’ll head to the eastern side of the state, which can take more than half a day, or drive to Idaho, or even Montana or Utah. There are only a few areas in Western Wyoming good for waterfowl hunting.

The Cokeville Meadows National Wildlife Refuge could provide Acri and other waterfowl hunters in western Wyoming more opportunities closer to home. The refuge is one of several the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering opening to hunting. The service is proposing to create new hunting programs on six refuges and expanding existing hunting and fishing programs on another 20, according to the federal agency.

“It’s a great opportunity for the western part of the state,” Acri said in a phone interview while waterfowl hunting in Canada.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal is one of the largest expansion opportunities considered on wildlife refuges in recent years, Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a press release. Hunting is already permitted on more than 329 refuges, and fishing is allowed on more than 271.

A bird flies at  the Cokeville Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. Hunters are especially excited about the opportunities for waterfowl hunting on the refuge. (Photo courtesy USFWS/Tom Koerner)
A bird flies at the Cokeville Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. Hunters are especially excited about the opportunities for waterfowl hunting on the refuge. (Photo courtesy USFWS/Tom Koerner — click to enlarge)

Work on allowing hunting on the Cokeville Meadows National Refuge has been underway for more than a year, said Tom Koerner, project leader with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. An environmental impact statement has been drafted for the refuge. The 30-day public comment period is open until Oct. 24, and it’s the last step before the hunting proposal is finalized. Koerner expects the refuge to be open for hunting next year.

The additional hunting and fishing access on national refuges, including Cokeville Meadows is a positive approach to providing sportsmen access to wild lands and wildlife, said Neil Thagard, western outreach director with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. Access keeps sportsmen interested and hunting and fishing provide important funds for conservation efforts, as well as local and national economies, he said.

Allowing hunting has always been part of the refuge’s plan since Cokeville Meadows was established in 1992, Koerner said. The approved acquisition boundary for the refuge, meaning how far the refuge is allowed to expand if people sell their land, is more than 26,000 acres, but the refuge is currently only about 8,000 acres. All but a parking lot with a short trail are closed to the public, Koerner said. Part of the refuge’s comprehensive plan includes opening portions up for wildlife viewing — the area is of particular interest to birders. Koerner said he hopes that could happen by next year, as well. Allowing hunting takes a few more steps.

Each year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service takes recommendations from refuge managers for new or expanded hunting and fishing opportunities and rolls them into one proposed rule, said Martha Nudel, a spokeswoman with the agency. The local refuge managers must first go through a planning process to make sure the new recreation opportunities still fit the refuge’s mission of conservation of wildlife and wildlife habitat, she said.

After the public comment period ends, staff will respond to comments and make changes to the rule before putting out a final notice of the rule. If everything runs smoothly the rule could be in place by mid-November. How a shut-down of the federal government could affect the timing isn’t known, Nudel said. But the federal register will continue to accept comments even if the government shuts down.

Once in place, the rule will allow big game hunting, including elk, deer and moose, but it is the waterfowl that has people, like Acri and also Steve Kilpatrick, executive director of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, most excited.

“We’re tickled to death,” Kilpatrick said.

The refuge will provide a much-needed waterfowl hunting area in Western Wyoming. “That is definitely an area that attracts waterfowl,” Kilpatrick said.

While allowing hunting on the refuge offers the usual sporting benefits — more recreation opportunities and production of populations — the refuge could provide a unique place to introduce kids to hunting.

“What I’m really excited about is; waterfowl hunting provides a great opportunity to take youth into the field,” Kilpatrick said. Setting up decoys and then waiting for birds provides a chance to teach kids how to identify different species, and also learn about hunting.

“This isn’t just about baggin’ a whole bunch of birds, but it’s about having some conversations with the youth of our state,” he said. “A lot of great conservations can happen in a duck blind with the sun popping over the horizon.”

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— “Peaks to Plains” is a blog focusing on Wyoming’s outdoors and communities. Kelsey Dayton is a freelance writer based in Lander. She has been a journalist in Wyoming for seven years, reporting for the Jackson Hole News & Guide, Casper Star-Tribune and the Gillette News-Record. Contact Kelsey at Follower her on twitter @Kelsey_Dayton

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Kelsey Dayton is a freelancer and the editor of Outdoors Unlimited, the magazine of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. She has worked as a reporter for the Gillette News-Record, Jackson Hole News&Guide...

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