Friday, December 12, 2003
Change coming to wildlife refuge
Fifteen or so early birds attended the Conservation Commission's monthly morning coffee to hear and question the new manager of the Eastern Massachusetts National Wildlife Refuge Complex, Elizabeth (Libby) Herland. Her focus was the proposed management plan for the Great Meadows, Assabet River and Oxbow national wildlife refuges that was made available for comment during a 45-day period this summer. The staff is still collating and analyzing the reactions garnered from four public hearings and about 2,000 letters and e-mails.
Before launching into specifics Herland explained that national wildlife refuges are just that. "My primary responsibility as a refuge manager is to provide optimum habitats for native, threatened and endangered animals and plants," she explained. A secondary, but very important mission, is providing enriching opportunities for interaction between people and the fauna and flora being protected. However, she made it clear that, "National wildlife refuges are not parks."
So what are the proposed changes in management practices contained in the hefty tome that Herland brought with her, a book which she said Carlisle's Conservation Administrator Sylvia Willard was one of the few in the region to have read in full. Herland turned first to those proposals that have received consistent support from the public. Number one is a greatly increased emphasis on eradication of the many invasive species that are plaguing not only the federal lands and waterways but also local preserves. A second winner is the plan for a "canoe trail" along the Sudbury, Assabet and Concord Rivers, which will increase and upgrade the boat launching facilities, among other things.
Controversial hunting proposals
Most controversial, according to Herland, has been the plan to open the refuges to limited deer and small animal hunting, using bows and arrows only, and to allow the shooting of water fowl on the federally controlled areas. Herland assured the audience that public safety would remain the assessment team's highest priority. She said the entire area being considered for these activities is currently being mapped from the air to locate each and every house within or abutting the zone. The team is then marking off the 500-foot safety zone for each, as required under state law. "Who knows," she asked, "whether we'll find there's enough area left to make a hunting policy worthwhile?"
Ornithology expert Ken Harte asked how the shootable species would be determined. Herland said the list for any given area in any given time period is based on numbers present and numbers shot and can change from month to month and year to year.She reassured the local birders that woodcocks are definitely not on the list at any time. Although Herland herself is a vegetarian, she gave today's hunters high marks for knowing the current regulations and following them, and for eating what they shoot. "They are a different breed from the old days," she said.
Herland also indicated that ducks and geese are managed on a "flyway" basis with migratory birds being controlled by federal agents, while residential and reproducing species are controlled by the state. It was also noteworthy that refuges don't have to follow state hunting allowances and can close off a given area to or for hunting for a given period to protect species or to assure human safety.
No dog walking
A second highly controversial change proposed is the prohibition of dog-walking in the refuges. Herland admitted that this is an emotional issue, not just because so many people enjoy and are accustomed to walking their pets there, but also because many women consider their canine companions vital to their safety in the woods. On the other hand, Herland observed that dogs can be destructive of wildlife habitat and well-being. "We are not receptive to uses incompatible with why the refuge was established in the first place," she explained. She did note that the issue is getting in-depth consideration and suggested that the new policy might be phased in, perhaps with current canine pedestrians being licensed for their individual lifetimes.
As with state parks and reservations, fee schedules may be in the offing, but Herland mentioned a figure in the $20 per year range, or a very modest daily rate. She did not think it would be practical to make Carlisle trails subject to any charges.
Questioned about the implementation schedule, Herland was rather non-committal but did reveal that the local study will be followed by a regional review and finally will go to Washington. "Washington can do whatever they want," she advised, "but they can't add new proposals." Any hope that the feds might eliminate the planned introduction of hunting is not in the cards. Herland reported that the House of Representatives had okayed that activity with only one dissenting vote.
© 2003 The