Letter: Protect The Loxahatchee Wildlife Refuge

The Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge is entertaining opening the refuge to expanded hunting and air boating. The comment period ends on Nov. 8. This means that if you wish to comment, you must do so before this deadline. What does this expansion involve? It would open almost the entire refuge to deer hunting and air boating. These areas would be open 24 hours a day, and no additional staff is being proposed to monitor these activities.

What is a wildlife refuge? The first wildlife refuge, Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, was created by Theodore Roosevelt in 1903. The mission of the refuge system is conservation, management and, where appropriate, restoration for the benefit of the present and future generations. The current congress and administration are proposing to change how refuges are operated. In Alaska, they are writing new rules seeking to permit the waking up and killing of female bears with cubs in what is known as spotlighting, where you shine a spotlight at the bear and its cubs and kill them as they awake. They also wish to permit the killing of caribou as they swim in the water and are helpless to escape. Other permissible activities will be what is called bear baiting, where you set out sweets, hide nearby and shoot the bears while they eat the food. Another activity permitted in the new rules is shooting wolf pups through the head after cornering them. These are described as “hunting.” So now, they are coming to our refuge west of Boynton Beach with new ideas to open it for new and expanded uses.

First thing to understand is our refuge is popular with close to 400,000 visits per year. Of these, less than one percent of the visits involve hunting. But Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who supports the above rules up in Alaska, is establishing new policies on what is wildlife management in Florida. You might think a refuge is a wildlife sanctuary, but not if you are Ryan Zinke. He thinks wild lands are for exploitation of the existing wildlife. His department is proposing hunting 24 hours a day with noisy air boats, jet motors and other motorized water craft. Rifle shots could travel up to three miles. That means hunters who are poor shots might send stray bullets out of the refuge. Deer hunting is proposed over the entire refuge. Duck hunting would be expanded to seven days a week.

The refuge currently has an excellent management plan with good rules and does permit many fishing activities and duck hunting. The Loxahatchee refuge has a serious problem with invasive plants and requires $2 million a year to fund invasive plant control. If hunters are given access throughout the entire refuge, they will track invasive plant seeds throughout the refuge, increasing the invasive plant problem and costing more money to combat invasive plants.

There are also ideas that would benefit the larger public, including increased camping, weddings, fishing and photography opportunities. Additional access by non-motorized boats such as kayaks is a good idea. Blinds for photographers to photograph birds without disrupting nesting is a good idea. These ideas will benefit most of the visitors without harming wildlife.

Interested parties can submit written comments via e-mail to armloxvsp@fws.gov or by mail to P.O. Box 924, Freeport, FL 32439.

Drew Martin, Lake Worth