Turnout was light, but some concerns and comments were fairly heavy when the public discussed future plans for the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge on Tuesday. About 15 people attended the meeting at the Great Plains Nature Center.
Mike Oldham, refuge manager, said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has spent about three years working on a plan for how the refuge would be managed over about the next 15 years. Some of the major considerations included continued tree removal from the 22,000-acre refuge, how hunting is managed when endangered whooping cranes are on the area, and the beginning of deer and wild turkey hunts on the refuge.
Oldham said all were mentioned as concerns by some of the public who attended meetings in 2010. Current public input will also be considered in the final decision making process in coming months.
One of those concerns had been the long-standing policy of closing Quivira to hunting when whoopers are present, which Oldham said seems to be trending to increasingly longer times into duck and goose seasons.
He said one possibility would allow the refuge to remain open to hunting during whooper occupations, but to change which portions of the refuge are open to public hunting. Basically, that could mean the closure of all hunting in the North Lake region, just north of the Big Salt Marsh. Some new areas could be opened nearer Quivira’s eastern side, further away from where whooping cranes normal congregate.
Ron Klataske, Audubon of Kansas director, said he wants the refuge closed to hunting when whoopers are present, fearing the disturbance could harass the endangered species.
“There should be some place where the sandhill cranes and whooping cranes can rest,” said Klataske. “Sandhill cranes and whooping cranes would not have been here in such numbers if not for how Quivira has been managed for the last 10 to 15 years.”
Klataske, a hunter, is also concerned a whooping crane might be mistakenly shot by someone hunting sandhill cranes. Oldham said there were no serious plans for allowing sandhills to be hunted anywhere on the refuge.
Zach Simon, a Quivira hunter who also guides clients on area private lands, complimented the concept of leaving the refuge open to hunting when whoopers are about. He noted, though, that the waterfowl hunting probably won’t be as good in the new areas that might be opened.
“Some of those new (wetlands) are only the size of swimming pools,” Simon said. “As far as the quality of the trade-off, it’s not a fair trade.”
Simon also questioned a portion of the proposal that could open Quivira to deer hunting for the first time since it was created about 60 years ago. Land devaluation could occur on private properties that border the refuge. He said these days, much of the land is purchased largely for the great deer hunting, or leased out because of the quality of bucks that come from the refuge to feed on private lands.
Simon said he was partially at the meeting to represent an out-of-state landowner who’d purchased land along Quivira’s eastern boundary.
“He paid a lot of money, and one of the main reasons was because it bordered Quivira where there was no deer hunting,” Simon said. “He also said landowners have safety concerns about Quivira deer hunters sitting too closely to private lands.”
He suggested a buffer zone of several hundred yards between Quivira deer hunters and private lands..
Oldham said even if approved later this year, any deer hunting on the refuge would come after more study and public input. It would also be highly managed, with special permits and probably short hunting times.
“I think less is more to begin with, for sure,” Oldham said.
Simon and Klataske also questioned the impact more hunting opportunities on Quivira could have on the refuge’s wildlife viewing and photography opportunities.
Simon, an accomplished amateur photographer, said, “There’s a reason why those deer are often just standing there 20 yards off the road. It’s because they’re not being hunted in there. It’s a great place to go see wildlife.”
Though he said he supports the creation of more public hunting opportunities across Kansas, Klataske said he feared too much of at it Quivira could impact wildlife viewing.
“What Yellowstone is to Wyoming, Quivira is to Kansas,” he said. “There should be at least one place in Kansas where a wildlife refuge is a wildlife refuge.”
Oldham told people that proposed plans for removing trees and brush would leave 12 woodlots for specific wildlife viewing and photography. The refuge is trying to reestablish much of its area to prairie.
Toni Griffin, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service planning leader, said public comment concerning Quivira is planned through May 20 and all e-mails and letters will be considered. She and Oldham did ask for those against possible changes to suggest alternative management ideas.
She can be reached at email@example.com or P.O. Box 25486, Denver, CO 80225-0486. Oldham is at firstname.lastname@example.org.