LA CROSSE, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin wildlife officials said waterways in the Upper Mississippi National Fish and Wildlife Refuge will be open when waterfowl season reopens this weekend, although the federal government shutdown has created some confusion for duck hunters.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has closed its 561 refuges as part of the federal shutdown.
But Wisconsin officials told the La Crosse Tribune that hunters and others can use the Mississippi River for recreational activities as long as they enter from a state or private boat launch.
“Basically, when it comes to waterfowl hunting, it is business as usual,“ Randy Stark, chief warden for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said in a news release. “The only difference is that access points to federal properties are closed.“
The Upper Mississippi refuge remains open largely as a matter of practicality. It would be nearly impossible for federal officials to close off a 240,000-acre refuge that runs more than 260 miles through four states.
“Most of their lands have a fence around them,“ said John Wetzel, secretary of the La Crosse County Conservation Alliance. “That makes sense, but it doesn't apply to the river.“
Federal officials see the situation somewhat differently than the state. They say land in the refuge is off limits, and boat landings operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have been barricaded. Those still working are less clear about the river.
“We are looking for an interpretation on the waters right now,“ said Chuck Traxler, assistant regional director of external affairs for Fish and Wildlife. “It's not clear right now.“
Traxler said the wildlife service is expected to issue a more definitive statement by the weekend.
“Ultimately we hope that we're open on Saturday,“ he said.
Wetzel urged hunters to be respectful of posted closings but predicted they would run into few problems.
“People are going to go out, go to their favorite spot and hunt,'' he said. “I would think they would be crazy to try to kick people off.“
Information from: La Crosse Tribune, www.lacrossetribune.com