A spike in interest for waterfowl hunting has led officials with Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge to schedule public meetings next month.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the more than 20,000-acre property in Brown County. Meetings are slated for November 1st at the Sportsman's Club of Brown County and November 2nd at the American Legion Hall in Columbia. Both meetings are set to begin at 7 p.m.
Dave Azure is Sand Lake's refuge manager. Dave Azure is the refuge manager at Sand Lake. He says there are many things under consideration when it comes to structuring a possible waterfowl season.
"Which parts of the refuge would be open, which parts would be closed? Is it all-day hunting, is it half-day hunting? Is it hunting on Wednesdays and Saturdays of each week? We want to look at alternatives for various user groups...we might be able to do something for youth and disabled hunters for example. And, then we have to look at methods of hunt. Are we going to allow boats? Are we going to allow motors on those boats," Azure says.
He says only 40 percent of the land is available for a potential season because of the refuge's chief purpose as a breeding ground for migratory birds. Azure says waterfowl hunting is not allowed on the property right now, but sportsmen can do so nearby.
"Hunters are allowed to hunt the road rights-of-way around most of the refuge. There are a couple road rights-of-way that are closed to hunting. But, by and large, the refuge perimeter just outside the refuge fence is open for hunting. And then, should hunters have a bird fall within the refuge, there is a retrieval zone that they're allowed to enter the refuge unarmed,” Azure says.
Azure says that zone is 100 yards inside the property. He says Sand Lake holds a deer and pheasant hunting season during the year, but also provides opportunities for bird watchers and nature photographers. He says those are additional purposes of the refuge.
"We want to consider the needs of bowhunters and deer hunters and waterfowl hunters, along with the needs of bird-watchers, and photographers, and nature observers. So, the public meeting isn't just for hunting groups, or hunting advocates, it's also for anyone who has an interest in the management of Sand Lake,” Azure says.
The refuge is designated as a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention. That organization is affiliated with the United Nations. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created Sand Lake by executive order in 1935.
Azure says a few of the common bird species found at the refuge include mallards, pintails, and canvasbacks.