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Hunting Proposed In Otay-Sweetwater National Wildlife Refuge

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Hunting Proposed In Otay-Sweetwater National Wildlife Refuge
Hunting Proposed In Otay-Sweetwater National Wildlife Refuge
GUESTSAndy Yuen, project leader, San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex Renee Owens, member of the National Sierra Club Wildlife and Endangered Species and the National Sierra Club Marine Action committees

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. The US Fish and Wildlife Service overseas the area designated as the National Wildlife Refuge Complex in San Diego. The government is working to come up with new conservation plans for these areas, and in the refuge, east of lower Otay Lake, a new draft plan would allow hunting. That is called a lot of concern among environmental groups. An online petition asking the government to scrap the hunting part of the plan has received more than 20,000 signatures. I would like to welcome my guests, Andy Yuen is project leader with the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Welcome to the program. And biologist Renee Owens is a member of the National Sierra Club Wildlife and Endangered Species committees. Thank you for coming in. Andy, can you give us an idea of exactly where this national area of wildlife refuge, that there is a contemplated idea that there may be a section of that opened hunting, can you tell us where that is in the county? ANDY YUEN: In the plan we identified three areas that are potentially opened for hunting. McGinty Mountain, Las Montanas, and Otay Lakes Mesa area. In the alternatives that we described in the environmental assessment, we have one alternative which maximizes hunting areas. We have three areas that we proposed for hunting. Another alternative has no hunting, and our preferred alternative has hunting in the Otay Lakes Mesa area. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What kinds of activities are allowed or managed on the areas now? ANDY YUEN: The areas identified for hunting are not opened for hunting now. We're proposing to open them for hunting as part of the long-range management plan. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And right now those areas are open to hiking, are there other activities? ANDY YUEN: Those lands, they have trails on those areas and so, people are out walking, hiking, riding horses, using mountain bikes. In the area that we have proposed for the alternative area for hunting, it is sandwiched actually between lands that are available and open for hunting on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Bureau of Land Management. Our lands are sandwiched between those, so we would just allow hunting that is going on in that area. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Give us an idea of the type of wildlife on the refuge and the species that may be opened to hunting. ANDY YUEN: The wildlife refuge is established for endangered, threatened, and migratory species. It is really on the doorstep of 3.5 million people, some really spectacular areas for native wildlife. But the areas proposed for hunting would be for upland game birds, quail, dove, mule deer, and other small animals like rabbits. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: RenÈe, you have submitted comments to the government on the proposed conservation plan that would allow hunting in this area of the San Diego Wildlife Refuge. Your main objection seems to be on the impact on the public, tell us about that. RENEE OWENS: We basically have three, as the Sierra Club, as most people know we are not opposed to hunting. It is really about time and place. We have three primary reasons for why saying hunting is not justified in this area. The first one is really the unique conception of this refuge complex, created in 1996, as the federal government contribution to the MSCP, the Multi-Species Conservation Plan. The primary mission is to conserve and protect, which is a little different than other refuge systems. So, the primary goal is not recreation, but having said that, public lands allow recreation. Our motto is explore, enjoy, protect the planet. We look at who is using public lands, and we actually look at US Fish and Wildlife Statistics that tell us the percentages. We really look at users and what they want, and statistics show that about 6% of Americans are hunters. On refuges, that number may go all the way up to 12% depending on what state you are in. Overall, the vast majority of users are what we call not consumptive. The truth is, these people are not keen on having firearms out, whether they are hikers, bikers, or pedestrians. We're looking at not only the designated use for the complexes, as being habitat preservation above all else, but who is using them. I think what are the bigger point of contention is that in the preferred alternative where they say it is just a small piece of land for hunting, it is not really way out there so to speak, it is within 400 feet of a very popular hiking trail, and an RV park. The other thing is, it would be for licensed hunters only in the alternative. It excludes the other 88 to 94% of users. We don't think that is really justified. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me go to RenÈe's first category here, the idea of the wildlife refuge that allows hunting seems like a contradiction of terms to a lot of people. Why would allowing hunting be good refuge management? ANDY YUEN: The guiding regulation for the national wildlife refuge system is the national wildlife refuge system improvement act. That act identified six wildlife dependent recreational uses: hunting, fishing, environmental education, interpretation, wildlife observation, and photography. Those six uses are the wildlife dependent recreational activities that we try to promote on a wildlife refuge. As part of the plan, we evaluated the opportunity to provide hunting as one of the six wildlife dependent activities. We try to find places where will be compatible for the purposes of the refuge. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What makes it compatible? The number of species? They are endangered species, right? ANDY YUEN: This gets to the great challenges of managing wildlife refuge in an urban environment. We are, of course, protecting endangered and threatened species and their wildlife habitats. At the same time, we want to encourage the public to come out to the wildlife refuge and enjoy the native wildlife in their backyard. We also have the responsibility under the refuge improvement act to look for opportunities to provide hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, photography, environmental education and interpretation. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I am almost out of time, and I know this is a very short period of time to try to analyze all of this, but I'm wondering, RenÈe, is this movement growing, do you think? The idea of trying to stop this plan? RENEE OWENS: We don't want to stop the plan whatsoever. We love the refuge, and these guys have a lot of work cut out for them. That is probably our final point, that with budget cuts and the sequester, and Fish and Wildlife always being understaffed, the idea that they will somehow have more people to enforce a new hunting area is really pulling the rabbit out of the hat. We would love to see these funds go towards, if anything, more education, just getting people outdoors to do all of the different kinds of things to really appreciate the jewel that we have in San Diego. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Quickly, what is the deadline for public comment on the particular plan? ANDY YUEN: August 18 is the closing period. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And you will expect comments by email, or letter? ANDY YUEN: All forms, email, snail mail, fax, and we did have a public meeting where we collected verbal comments. RENEE OWENS: Owls. [ LAUGHTER ] RENEE OWENS: Yes, owls, passenger pigeons, any way! MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You can you this conversation off the air, and we do have an email address for your agency on our website. Thank you both very much.

Submit A Comment

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting comments on the proposed conservation plan until Aug. 18.

Mail comments to: Victoria Touchstone, Refuge Planner San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex, P.O. Box 2358, Chula Vista, CA 91912-2358.

Fax comments to: (619) 476-9149.

Email comments to: Victoria_Touchstone@fws.gov (include “San Diego NWR CCP” in the subject line).

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing that hunting be allowed in an area of the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge, and the idea has sparked a wave of criticism.

The federal agency oversees areas designated as National Wildlife Refuges in San Diego County. The biggest one is in the Otay-Sweetwater area.

The 11,500-acre San Diego National Wildlife Refuge is open to the public for hiking, mountain biking, environmental education, wildlife observation and photography.

A draft conservation plan would allow hunting there. That's caused concern among environmental groups, and they've started an online petition asking the government to scrap the hunting part of the plan. So far, they have collected more than 20,000 signatures.

The conservation proposal includes four options for managing the National Wildlife Refuge. They are:

Alternative A: It would mean no change to the current management of the refuge. Current management includes monitoring and taking action to protect sensitive and endangered species of wildlife, controlling invasive weeds and brush management to prevent wildfires.

Alternative B:It calls for some restrictions of public access to the refuge in order to protect wildlife and native habitats. This alternative would close and restore some trails damaged by erosion. Dogs would not be allowed.

Alternative C: It would allow hunting in designated areas of the National Wildlife Refuge, including portions of McGinty Mountain, Las Montañas, Otay Mesa and Lakes management areas. The wildlife management would be the same as under Alternative B, but leashed dogs would be allowed on trails.

Alternative D: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prefers this option. It would allow hunting in a designated area of the Otay Mesa and Lakes management area. This option includes the same habitat management as in Alternative B and includes a plan for eradicating feral pigs. Under this option, dogs would be allowed on some trails.

What questions do you have about the Statewide General Election coming up on Nov. 8? Submit your questions here, and we'll try to answer them in our reporting.