Concerns raised at WGFD meeting

TORRINGTON – Tempers flared Wednesday as more than 60 concerned citizens packed into the Community Room of the Platte Valley Bank to meet with Wyoming Game and Fish officials.

The meeting was one of several across the state, seeking public input in regard to hunting season proposals. Torrington’s meeting had two hot-button issues, one regarding Springer Wildlife Area and the other addressing the Lingle refuge area.

“I thought it went well,” Goshen County Game Warden Rob Hipp said of the meeting. “These meetings are all about what the public wants. We do our internal processes with what makes sense to us, and then we get out and see how it goes with everyone else. This is their chance to comment.

“This is the best turnout we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Hipp, who has been in the county for going on four years, added. “We had some things going in that were going to interest some people and draw some people out tonight. The two main issues tonight were with Springer and the Lingle waterfowl closure.”

The Lingle Refuge area is an area west of Lingle that is a safe place for geese to roost. The agreement between the original 17 landowners in the area was a “handshake” agreement established in 1979. 

The agreement created a 300-yard buffer zone on either side of the North Platte River between the west and south bridges on Wyoming Highway 157, making it illegal to hunt geese, creating a refuge area for the birds to safely roost. Hunting could happen past the 300-yard buffer, but only with permission of the landowner or the leaser of the land.

One to two landowners who have property along the refuge area want to withdraw from the agreement and, because there is no written contract, they have the ability to do so. With a few properties out of the deal, WGFD would have to create irregular boundaries for the new refuge area because the guideline of “bridge to bridge” would no longer apply. Instead, the department proposed doing away with the refuge all together.

“We proposed getting rid of it, because all of that property is private property,” Hipp said. “It’s already illegal to trespass, so that’s where we were coming from. If people had something going on on their property that they didn’t want going on, then that’s trespassing and we could handle it that way, rather than have it be a closure area.”

If the refuge is disbanded, the 300-yard buffer on either side of the river would be done away with. Hunting would be legal within that 300-yards, but a hunter would still need to be aware of trespassing laws and would need to have permission from the landowner.

“Landowners can decide if they want to hunt on the river or if they don’t want to hunt on the river,” Nate Huck, the migratory game bird biologist out of the Casper regional office, said during the meeting. “You guys still have the option to say, ‘No, we are not going to have hunting on the river.’”

Input at the meeting Wednesday included creating GPS boundaries for the new refuge area after letting the landowners who wanted out of the agreement to be granted the ability to do so. Many of the landowners are in favor of the agreement and do not want to see it go.

“As we heard in the meeting, a majority of the landowners did want it to stay, which is what we were hoping for,” Hipp said. “We wanted to keep that refuge in place.”

With a potential compromise on the horizon for the Lingle refuge area, the WGFD worked on a proposal for a compromise for the Springer pheasant season. The WGFD felt that the Springer area was being underutilized for pheasant hunting and wanted to add time on to the pheasant season to create more hunting opportunities. Concerns were raised about the geese who use the areas to roost, including the bodies of water in the area.

 “(The publics) concern is people hunting is going to make those birds just skip over and continue flying somewhere else rather than come and roost, and hopefully stick around for a while, and provide waterfowl hunting for waterfowl hunters in the area,” Hipp said.

The department came up with three options, one would be to add 10 days to the end of the season at Springer, running the season to the end of November. The other option would be to keep the season the same as 2017. A third option was to extend the hunting season, but create buffer zones where hunting pheasants would not be allowed, creating more days for hunting, but also providing some space for the geese to roost.

The buffer zones where pheasant hunting would not be allowed would be the Bump Sullivan property, the pivot area south of the Springer farm, and north of the road that cuts through the farm, cutting off a large reservoir area.

“There would be no waterfowl hunting on the whole Springer unit and only some pheasant hunting on portions of the unit,” Hipp said. “Nobody would be hunting around the reservoir on the north portion of the unit… We tried to be pretty generous with that buffer zone. We were trying to compromise there. There is a lot of room up there for geese to come in and have a place to roost unmolested.”

A fourth option was proposed at the meeting, where the 10 days for pheasant hunting would be added to the beginning of the pheasant season, instead of the end of the season, which would still allow the geese to have the same roosting opportunities that they had in 2017.

Both the Lingle refuge closure and the Springer unit changes were just proposals. An internal review by the WGFD was made and both of the proposals were talked about and were presented to the public in meetings like Wednesday’s, where the WGFD wanted public feedback. Following the meetings and submitted comments from the public, there is a regional and department review and analysis of public comment, before the proposals go to the Game and Fish Commission on April 24-25 in Lander.

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