By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking public comment on a draft conservation plan and environmental assessment for the 636-acre refuge, which includes the 5.5-mile Spit and iconic New Dungeness Light Station.
If approved early next year, the plan would guide management of the refuge through 2027.
Comments on the draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment for the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge will be accepted through Dec. 27.
The 520-page document can be viewed at www.fws.gov/pacific/planning.
Project Leader Kevin Ryan of the Washington Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Complex said the “red flag issues” — the proposals to eliminate horseback riding and running from the refuge — can be found in the “appropriate use findings” in appendix A.
“People can still respond to that,” Ryan said.
“No decision has been made because it’s still a draft.”
Horseback riding and jogging were found to be inappropriate uses because of public safety and disturbances to wildlife.
Ryan cited conflicts between horseback riders and non-equestrians, including an injury that occurred in May, near the boundary of the refuge and the Dungeness Recreation Area.
Horseback riding currently is permitted in designated areas inside the refuge.
It also is permitted in the Dungeness Recreation Area, a Clallam County park that serves as the portal to the refuge.
A narrow trail leads from the parking lot in the county park to the Spit below. The path is used by horseback riders, the elderly and people with strollers.
“That’s the section that horseback people and non-horseback people share,” Ryan said.
“It just is not a safe situation.”
Ryan estimated that between 100 and 140 equestrians use the refuge in a normal year.
“In the preliminary draft, we’re not going to entertain horseback riding any longer for safety issues,” he said.
“We expect people to respond to it. I totally expect horseback people to get up in arms.”
Although few people jog in the refuge, running was removed as an appropriate use because of its “potential to cause increased levels of disturbance to wildlife when compared to walking.”
“It has been determined that animals show greater flight response to humans moving unpredictably than to humans following a distinct path, and rapid movement by joggers is more disturbing to wildlife than slower moving hikers,” the findings state.
Wildlife viewing, photography and environmental education “may be negatively affected because of the expected responses by wildlife to the fast moving activity associated with jogging,” the draft plan says.
“When wildlife react by moving away from jogging activity or alter behavior by hiding they will be less likely to be observed.”
Ryan noted that the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge is “not a multiple-use area like other federal lands are.
“Wildlife comes first,” he said.
Since President Theodore Roosevelt established Florida’s Pelican Island as the first wildlife refuge in 1903, the National Wildlife Refuge System has grown to 548 refuges and 37 wetland districts totaling more than 96 million acres.
Comments on the draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment for the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge can be emailed to FW1PlanningComments@fws.gov, faxed to 360-457-9778 or mailed to Kevin Ryan, Project Leader, Washington Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 715 Holgerson Road, Sequim, WA 98382.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.