Backcountry Hunters & Anglers recently helped score a big win for hunter access and opportunity in Missouri that will keep hunting open during the upcoming waterfowl season at Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Sumner, Missouri.
In collaboration with stakeholders including Delta Waterfowl, Ducks Unlimited, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Missouri Department of Conservation, BHA ensured the reopening of this critical piece of the national refuge system for the upcoming waterfowl season. Access for hunters and anglers is a core part of BHA’s mission, and keeping these public lands and waters open for waterfowl hunting was an access win through and through.
“Maintaining hunting opportunities for the upcoming waterfowl season at Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge is a huge win for hunting and public access,” said Chapter Coordinator Aaron Hebeisen. “Swan Lake is a pristine waterfowl habitat and a paradise for duck hunters in the Mississippi Flyway. We are fortunate to have engaged in conversations with federal and state agencies, along with NGO partners, that resulted in a re-evaluation of the previously announced closure of the waterfowl season at Swan Lake. BHA continues to show up when we are needed most.”
Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1937 to provide habitat, sanctuary and breeding grounds for migratory birds and other wildlife, according to USFWS. Currently, the refuge encompasses 10,795 acres of mostly wetlands and is managed for migratory birds, including waterfowl, geese, shorebirds and neo-tropical migrating species of birds
This refuge unit is one of the most visited waterfowl hunting areas in the state of Missouri and has provided quality fish and wildlife habitat, as well as hunting and angling opportunities for years. However, on June 6 the popular public hunting program was suspended until further notice which led BHA to spring into action. BHA conducted follow-up conversations with the refuge managers and several local retired wildlife management staff members in the area and learned that the decision to suspend hunting was primarily driven by a lack of critical resources needed to maintain both visitor use and quality wildlife habitat on the refuge, with full-time staffing levels falling from 12 to just one by August. After facing pressure from BHA and other NGOs, those changes were challenged, and hunting was restored on the refuge.
“Because of the tenacious energy of our Missouri Chapter, BHA not only sent letters to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and got the message out locally to membership, but also demanded face-to-face meetings that ultimately resulted in the reopening of the refuge for the 2023-2024 waterfowl hunting season,” Hebeisen said.
For the fall 2023 hunt, all but three of the refuge’s 20 units will be open to waterfowl hunting per state regulations. Units S2, S4 and T1 on the southern border of the refuge will be closed this season for rehabilitation work. In addition, the refuge will no longer backfill units due to daily no-shows, and the check-in/check-out process will be done through the online hunt draw service.
“It’s super encouraging for our chapter to have played a part in another successful restoration of access here in Missouri for hunters and anglers,” said Missouri BHA Chapter Chair Paul Keeven. “It just goes to show that we as conservation organizations should not be lone-wolf entities and that by partnering up with other like-minded organizations, our voice is that much louder and stronger.”