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Montana Hunter Blocked by Federal Shutdown, Wildlife Manager Responds to Complaints

Photo courtesy of The Flint Report

The federal shutdown hasn’t effected most Montana hunters, but that was not the case for Dillon resident Don Copple, who says he was prevented from passing through some federal property to get to state land in Beaverhead County.

The incident occurred on the Lower Red Lake National Wildlife Refuge on Monday, October 16. Copple said that after a 100 mile trip he and a hunting partner were stopped when they got out of their car at the refuge.

“I believe I recognized the refuge manager,” Copple said. “He let me know the refuge was closed and that we couldn’t go up the trail. He asked me if I had seen the sign or not, and I hadn’t, because it was dark out. I walked over and looked at the sign on the trail-head. Sure enough it said ‘refuge closed due to government shutdown no trespassing.’ I asked him at first, ‘you’ve got to be kidding me this is public ground, you can’t close it’ and he said ‘well it’s closed.’”

Don Copple:

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Copple said he then went down the road to hunt on BLM land.

“The BLM wasn’t posted at all,” Copple said. The BLM land, as far as I know, is all open in our area, which is interesting because it’s the Department of Interior that runs both of those agencies.”

When asked why the shutdown was keeping hunters from even passing through the refuge, manager Bill West said “that was the way our leadership has directed us to respond to the shutdown. This is happening right during the time of the year that people would like to hunt and we know it is causing hardship. It causes me hardship to tell people they can’t go up our trail.”

West said that the trail has been closed since the beginning of the shutdown, and that no one had been cited for any violations yet. West also said that his goal has been to educate rather than enforce, and that attempts were made to tell people other routes to access the state land that did not pass through the refuge.

When asked why some federal lands nearby were accessible, while others were not, West said that the directions from wildlife refuges were different because of their purpose.

“It makes a lot of sense that we have a different mission than the Forest Service or the BLM or the parks service,” West said. “It is wildlife first, and it costs money to run the place and we don’t have any money, right now, for the last 16 days, to run the place. Myself, as the manager, and our law enforcement officer are still working everyday. We hope to get paid someday… the rest of the staff was laid off.”

The refuge typically operates with anywhere from six to 16 people at peak operating ours in the summer.

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