Hunting Bans in Mojave
by Jim Matthews
The National Park Service is moving ahead with its prejudicial plan to ban all predator hunting in California's East Mojave National Preserve. All hunting, except for the limited bighorn sheep hunt, would also be banned between February 1 and August 31, and there is still a huge “safety” closure of one-mile around Kelso Depot.

In spite of a huge outcry from hunters throughout the region and from detailed comments provided by the Department of Fish and Game explaining how the NPS staff was operating outside state and federal agency recommendations, the land management plan for the National Preserve was signed by the regional director and preserve staff.

The final document would outlaw the hunting of all predators and non-game animals, end target shooting and plinking, and close the park to hunting seven months of the year to eliminate potential conflicts with other users. All of those uses are being disallowed without any biological justification.

The NPS’ final document did change rules that would have banned the hunting of small game (cottontails and jackrabbits), and it rescinded most of its moronic “safety” closures around roads, trails, campgrounds and other facilities, closures that were often up to a mile in scope. It did, however, keep the one-mile, no-shooting buffer around Kelso Depot for reasons that mystify everyone involved with the process.

“We’re adamantly opposed to this (final plan),” said Darrell Wong, a DFG biologist who has been coordinating the DFG’s effort to get the park service to maintain all hunting opportunities in the Mojave. “Curt Taucher (DFG regional manager) keeps telling us that he’s going to the mat over this issue. We want to maintain the hunting opportunities that are there.”

Sent before the final plan was adopted, Curt Taucher’s four-page letter to Mary Martin, superintendent of the preserve, pointed out four major flaws in the final draft document. The implication was clear. The DFG is willing to fight for the sportsmen on these issues, and that the park service was treading on very unstable legal ground.

“We strongly disagree with the proposed restrictions of hunting throughout the MNP (Mojave National Preserve),” said Taucher’s letter. It went on to say, “Without substantive data or information to support the proposed restrictions, we believe they are unwarranted, unnecessary, and in direct conflict with... (the legislation that created the preserve).”

Taucher’s letter hit on four main points:

• First, that the management of wildlife within the state was the responsibility of the DFG and Fish and Game Commission, and that final adoption of the plan with any hunting restrictions should only come after extensive consultation with the DFG and adoption by the Fish and Game Commission, allowing for public comment on the proposals through the state regulatory process. This did not happen.

• Second, the park staff adopted the hunting restrictions on a clear misinterpretation of what was allowed under the Desert Tortoise Recovery Plan (DTRP), which specifically recommended that legal hunting be allowed to continue even when other activities in the desert areas were restricted to protect tortoises. Because the DTRP didn’t specifically mention small game hunting and hunting of non-game species (varmints), the park service staff saw this as their opportunity to restrict these activities.

• Third, the hunting restrictions violated not only state policy of the Fish and Game Commission to “ensure and enhance hunting and fishing opportunities” throughout the state, but also the law that created the preserve that “is explicitly clear to allow hunting opportunities to continue.”

• And fourth, the letter pointed out the park service staff proposals for large, so-called safety buffers around campgrounds and visitor centers (no discharge of a rifle within one mile of these areas) are completely unwarranted and unprecedented anywhere in the state. Taucher’s letter states “In reviewing the Department’s hunter safety records, it is clearly demonstrated... the general public is not at risk.... The Department does not support proposed restrictions on such a responsible user group within the MNP.” It also pointed out what a nightmare these restrictions would be to enforce.

The NPS apparently heeded only a small portion of the DFG’s comments when it adopted the final plan.

The DFG is to be commended for going to bat for sportsmen on this issue. It is clear from the letter’s tone the DFG would be willing to go to court over the proposed hunting bans in the preserve, and it has a strong legal leg to win such a case should the National Park Service not make the DFG’s proposed changes in the plan.

The park service staff needs to remember the only reason there is a Mojave National Preserve at all is because sportsmen supported the proposal when hunting was allowed as part of the legislation. As conservationists, sportsmen saw the need for greater resource protection and enhancement than was happening under Bureau of Land Management control but didn’t want to lose the vast area to hunting. When the “park” proposal was changed to a “preserve” proposal that allowed hunting, the Desert Protection Act passed. It passed only because of support by sportsmen who lobbied the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus to support the bill.

Unfortunately, this hunting ban proposal has fostered a huge distrust of the park service personnel within the general public and the state agencies’ staff that are now required to work with the park staff to protect and enhance wildlife within the preserve. The wholesale removal of wildlife water sources on retired cattle leases, without thorough evaluation of their impacts on desert wildlife, further has damaged the park staff’s credibility and dedication to the resources in the desert. It simply appears as though they are all anti-hunting, and they have a major hurdle to clear to prove to the preserve’s largest group of users — hunters — that is not the case.

Wong said the park service must take their proposed closures to the Fish and Game Commission before the state regulations will reflect any changes in the region, and the DFG is going to recommend that none of them be approved because they are outside sound management and outside of the scope of the legislation that authorized the creation of the preserve.

“However, failing to get what they want from the Commission, we are told they have a federal process they can go through to bypass the state,” said Wong.

That will set the stage for the DFG to sue over this issue, and it looks like the DFG is willing to fight for hunters’ rights over this issue.

The tragic part of this equation is that the preserve is setting itself up for a lawsuit with the state over an issue that shows park service’s bias against hunting. The enabling legislation — the Desert Protection Act — clearly states that hunting will be allowed in accordance with state hunting seasons and regulations in the East Mojave. Now the NPS staff is going to waste public money that could have been used to do resource work and improve facilities at the preserve on legal fees.

This prejudicial and ignorant agenda needs to end. The staff responsible for this needs to be fired, or at the very least demoted and transferred. Call your federal legislators and ask why prejudice is allowed to be so deeply rooted in the National Park Service. Ask how the NPS staff can get away with writing and adopting documents that violate the law, the Desert Protection Act. Call today.

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