SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. —Bowing to objections from residents and local officials, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has dropped plans to allow hunting with firearms in some areas of the John H. Chafee National Wildlife Refuge.
However the plan does provide for hunting and fishing opportunities at the 563-acre refuge, which straddles South Kingstown and Narragansett and portions of the Narrow River.
The final plan, released Monday, prohibits hunting in the Mumford Hunt Unit, a fragmented refuge area near both Narragansett Elementary School and the William O’Neil Bike Path, and bordered by residential homes.
It was concerns from abutters and Narragansett Police Chief Sean Corrigan that prompted Fish and Wildlife to eliminate the Mumford Unit from hunting.
“The Service decided to delete this unit from the hunting plan to foster continued environmental education activities in the area and for public safety,” the Service wrote in its plan.
The Fish and Wildlife Service also scrapped plans for a hunters’ parking lot on Crest Avenue for the Stedman Hunt Unit in South Kingstown, a large tract of land off Route 1 and behind both the state District and Traffic courts and The Prout School.
Hunters within the Stedman Unit must follow state regulations for deer, fall turkey and waterfowl. The Service also has put in place a 200-foot archery safety zone and a 500-foot firearm safety zone on parts of the refuge adjacent to homes.
Hunting white-tailed deer with firearms matches state regulations in the Congdon Cove and Stedman units. Deer hunting with firearms is not allowed in any other unit.
Migratory bird hunting rules match state regulations at Foddering Farms, Middlebridge, Sedge Island, Starr Drive, and Stedman.
Archery hunting for white-tailed deer matches state regulations on all hunt units, and deer hunters are allowed to take fox and coyote during the deer season, from September through January.
Fall archery hunting for wild turkey matches state regulations in all hunt units, and no permits are required. Hunters download, sign, and carry a refuge hunting brochure for each season to serve as written permission to access the refuge units for hunting.
And for the 2020 season, only archery is permitted on all units for white-tailed deer, wild turkey, fox, and coyote hunting.
The prospect of hunters with firearms operating close to neighborhoods concerned residents of both towns who spoke out in June against the draft plans.
A 1969 Narragansett town ordinance prohibits the use of firearms except at ranges for rifle or pistol shooting that meet the requirements of the police department. The new federal plan acknowledges this with respect to deer hunting.
“Deer hunting within the Town of Narragansett will be limited to archery only, rather than allowing both firearms and archery. Waterfowl hunting and fishing on the Narrow River will be allowed as originally proposed,” the plan says.
In its water quality management plan for the Narrow River, the state recommends control of goose populations to help abate water pollution. “Continuing the long tradition of waterfowl hunting here by allowing this recreational pursuit on refuge lands may help meet state goals,” the plan says.
At Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge, no hunting will be allowed on the Trustom Pond water body itself.
Waterfowl hunting will only be allowed where it always has been, on field 1, which lies east of the main refuge land base.
Archery hunting for deer will be allowed, but limited by the number of permits granted. All archers must not only carry a state hunting license (which requires a hunter education course) but also must show proficiency in the use of archery equipment.
No hunting will be allowed within 200 feet of a dwelling or within 100 feet of a public trail.
“We are confident that this activity can be accommodated safely and with minimal conflicts with other users,” the Service said.
The abundant deer population at the Trustom Pond refuge is depleting native vegetation, allowing non-native species to gain a foothold, influencing forest health and hampering restoration, the service said. “Controlling deer populations will help the overall health of natural systems we all depend on.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a draft plan for the National Wildlife Refuges in Rhode Island earlier this spring. During the 85-day public comment period, 1,641 comments and two petitions were received from the public.
“We are grateful to the many people who provided meaningful comments on the draft, which helped in developing the final plan,” the Service said. “Many comments reflected an opposition to hunting and fishing in general and in particular on NWR lands. We understand and respect this viewpoint. The legislation which guides how national wildlife refuges across the country are managed not only requires us to consider allowing wildlife observation, hunting, fishing, photography, environmental education, and interpretation, but further directs us to promote these activities when compatible with refuge purposes. Not one of these recreational uses have a priority over another – they are simply different ways people choose to enjoy the refuges and to engage themselves, their families, and their friends in the outdoors.”
Hunting and fishing activities occur on dozens of national wildlife refuges across the nation, the Service went on to say. “Harvesting wild fish and wild game, if hunters and anglers are lucky, is an important benefit valued by many. Our plan is about sharing these lands with others, even though some may not agree with how others choose to enjoy the natural environment. These lands are for every citizen’s use, for all Americans, not just a few.”
Hunters also are required to take several safety measures. They must have a valid state hunting license, which requires a hunter education course. All archery hunters for deer, turkey, coyote and fox must have a state archery proficiency certification.
Aerial maps of hunt unit boundaries and safety setbacks will be given to hunters, and the public will be alerted to annual hunting seasons. The hunting and fishing program will be monitored and adjustments made as deemed necessary, the Fish and Wildlife Service said.