Officials with the National Wildlife Refuge System met with the public Monday evening at the Stafford Senior Center in Stafford to present three proposed options for a 15 year plan for managing the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.
“We’ve been working on our plan for more than a few years, and now we have something to share with you,” said Antoinette Griffin, Wildlife Refuge Planner with the National Wildlife Refuge System. Griffin travelled from Lakewood, Colo. for the presentation and to collect comments and answer questions.
Of the three possibilities, the proposed Alternative B, if selected, will provide for the refuge to introduce both deer and turkey hunting, and will create new hunting maps that will translate to fewer closings when whooping cranes are sighted at the refuge.
In 1997, the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act identified six possible public uses for refuge lands: hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, nature photography, environmental education and interpretation.
Ed Mercrer has been a landowner adjacent to the refuge for the past 30 years. He feeds deer on his property, and is concerned about the possibility that hunters may lay in wait for deer just yards from his property if the refuge offers permits for deer hunting in the future.
“I’ve managed to enjoy an appreciation in my property value over the years,” he said. “I think that could change if my property shared a border with public hunting grounds.”
He asked Griffin to consider setting back the boundary of the proposed hunting map by a half a mile. By doing this, it would also take care of another potential problem. The width of two sections of the proposed deer hunting area are only three-eighths of a mile across, a distance that he feels is inadequate for public safety.
Stan Christensen, another landowner, asked if the deer and turkey hunting seasons would result in shorter seasons for hunting upland game birds and waterfowl.
Michael Oldham, refuge manager, said there was much to look at before a hunt plan could be finalized.
“If this plan should be selected, deer and turkey hunting wouldn’t begin overnight,” he said. “We would have to work up a hunt plan, and it would need to be approved first.” Oldham also added that the plan would be presented to the public and they would again seek comment at that time before anything would become final.
Other options included making no changes at all, and developing a plan that would restore the refuge to a more native habitat. The proposed plan would require a minimal increase in funds and staffing, while a restoration would involve more studies, more funding, and additional staff to complete, Griffin said.
A restoration could also possibly include the reintroduction of some native species, like Bison, according to biologist Barry Jones. However, before that could be possible, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would need to approve a plan for it.
The main purpose of Quivira is to provide habitat for migratory birds and nesting grounds. The refuge and Barton County’s Cheyenne Bottoms are both part of one of the main migratory corridors in the U.S. Birds traveling from the north stop on their way to Texas, and again during the return trip. Some protected species for which these wetlands are crucial include whooping cranes and snowy plovers. In addition, bald eagles nest and winter at Quivira, and least terns nest at the big salt marsh. These primary purposes need to be considered, as well as any impact restoration may have upon them.
“There are some things we can change, and there are some things we can’t,” Jones said. “We can’t close county roads, for instance.” Reintroduction of a species like Bison would require several safety requirements.
There are two more public hearings scheduled this week. On Tuesday, Griffin and Quivira staff will head to Wichita’s Great Plains Nature Center, and Wednesday, they will be in Great Bend.
“The people at Cheyenne Bottoms were very helpful in showing us how we could make adjustments to protect the whooping cranes without having to close the refuge to hunters,” Griffin said. “We look forward to their input on these alternatives.”
The public meeting will be held at the Front Door Community Center meeting room from 5 p.m to 7 p.m. Wednesday evening.