Restore Hunting in Castle Mountains National Monument

In February 2016, 20,920 acres of public lands east of the Mojave National Preserve were designated under the Antiquities Act as the Castle Mountains National Monument. Diverse outdoor recreationists, including hunters in California and across North America, have reason to support the conservation of this important high elevation desert habitat. Yet without action by Congress, hunting remains off limits within the monument boundaries.

The habitat in and around Castle Mountains National Monument offers hunting opportunities for Gambel’s quail, chukar, rabbit and mule deer and is home to a population of California bighorn sheep. At a time when public lands hunting access is increasingly valuable — and a growing number of communities rely on the economic contributions of public lands users like hunters — places like the Castle Mountain region should be managed to sustain traditional uses like hunting and fishing.

However, when the monument was established, management of these lands was transferred from the Bureau of Land Management to the National Park Service. While an unintended consequence, hunting was eliminated within the new monument as a result of this transfer of management authority. Because of legal precedents and interpretations around the Organic Act, which established the National Park Service, hunting is only allowed in preserves with few other exceptions.

California sportsmen and women feel this loss keenly and we have been working diligently with multiple stakeholders to develop thoughtful solutions that will restore hunting within the current boundaries of the monument.

Like many public land hunters, I believe in keeping things simple. The simplest way to allow hunting within the monument is to transfer the existing monument acreage into the adjacent Mojave National Preserve through narrowly written legislation. Expanding the boundaries of the preserve to include the current monument footprint would not only reinstate hunting opportunities but also maintain the conservation values that monument designation affords wildlife habitat and create greater efficiencies by consolidating management plans and technical requirements. This approach would benefit hunters, wildlife populations and local communities that want greater certainty across all recreation activities that fuel rural California economies reliant on our outdoor traditions.

Congress should work with California sportsmen and women to take action now. Introducing simple and narrowly defined legislation to transfer Castle Mountains National Monument into the adjacent Mojave National Preserve gives all stakeholders an opportunity to discuss the most efficient way to restore hunting while retaining important conservation values that monument designation elevated for this incredible landscape. More importantly, a legislative approach sets the right precedent and keeps politics out of public land management.

I have co-hosted the Mojave National Preserve Youth Quail hunt the last three years near the monument. Restoring hunting in the area will also increase opportunities for youth hunters to explore this wild country in search for game. And congressional legislation reopening 20,920 acres to hunting would serve as a great example of how multiple organizations can work together to correct an oversight and return responsible management to the landscape, all while keeping public lands in public hands.

All of us who enjoy and depend on our wild public lands, waters and wildlife have reason to support this commonsense management approach. I ask our congressional leaders here in California to seize this moment and act swiftly in the best interests of hunters and all American citizens who are public land owners.

Originally published in the Victorville Daily Press:

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