Coulee Region bird hunters may be venturing into uncharted waters when waterfowl season reopens this weekend.

As a result of the federal government shutdown, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has closed its 561 refuges — including the Upper Mississippi National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, the most frequently visited.

But how do you close a 240,000-acre refuge that stretches along more than 260 miles of the Mississippi River 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.”

Despite difficulty receiving guidance from the shuttered federal agency, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is advising hunters that waters — including the Mississippi River — are open for recreational activities like hunting, so long as users enter legally through a state or private boat launch.

“Basically, when it comes to waterfowl hunting, it is business as usual,” DNR chief warden Randy Stark said in a news release. “The only difference is that access points to federal properties are closed.”

But definitive answers are difficult to come by with some 800,000 federal workers on furlough.

Fish and Wildlife boat landings are barricaded, and refuge lands are officially off limits. How the rules affect waters are less clear.

“We are looking for an interpretation on the waters right now,” said Chuck Traxler, assistant regional director of external affairs and one of the few Fish and Wildlife employees answering his phone Monday. “It’s not clear right now.”

The DNR has a different interpretation.

In an internal email, DNR chief legal counsel Tim Andryk wrote that while the Fish and Wildlife Service has the authority to close their facilities and boat landings, “they cannot close the river to fishing and hunting, and federal officers who cite people for that risk personal liability in state court for violating the state constitutional right to hunt and hunter interference law.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to issue a definitive answer by the weekend, if not something better.

“Ultimately we hope that we’re open on Saturday,” Traxler said.

While urging people to respect the posted closings, Wetzel predicted hunters will not likely face 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.”

(6) comments

lutefisk

the duckies need a reprieve

GrandpaS

Five US servicemen were killed on duty in the Middle East over the last week. Because of the shutdown, their families cannot get death benefits to help fly those soldiers home, help cover their funeral expenses and provide some financial help until the survivor benefits start. Normally, that death benefit, $100,000, was sent out within 36 to 48 hours of the death so that it could be used immediatley by the soldier's family. And people are getting bent out of shape about duck hunting being closed?

To Senator Ron Johnson and all the other destructive, numbskull, totally selfish obstructionists: The fact that those five families can't afford to fly their lost family members home for burial sits on your shoulders. Have you no shame or sense of decency at all? Apparently not. Anybody who votes for Johnson and his peers in the next election has no sense of decency either. I am embarrassed by what our government has become. Vote these losers out.

Mr Wizard

Obama is going out of his way to inflict as much pain as possible to as many people as possible during this shutdown all the while being the chief obstructionist to compromise. Sad that people like you can't see the forest for the trees.

Mr Wizard

I think it's time for people in the 4 states that border the Upper Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Refuge to pressure their congressmen and senators to introduce legislation to remove it from federal control and have the lands revert to state control. The simple idea of having a "refuge" surrounded by 7 million people is preposterous. USFWS is out of control and it's time to show them the door.

james know better

This HAS been cleared up for those who hunt in Horicon and the Chequamegon/Nicolet. But for some reason the Tribune is unable to provide anything clearer than the mud they generally print.

Lets try this.

How about if you print a list of those boat landings, buildings, lands that ARE fenced off or barricaded up and down the river and ARE closed to public use.

ALSO a list of those landings that are OPEN. Both sides of the river.

Just some good solid factual information that your readers CAN use. Lets try that once and see how it goes. Who knows maybe you could do that on every story. Wouldn't that be great?!?

LAX Liberty

Molon Labe. (You can have my duck call when you pry it from my cold dead hands)

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