By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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If the proposal goes through, the 24th District lawmaker has threatened to look into legislation that would revoke a wildlife-protecting easement the state granted to the federal government for part of the Dungeness Spit, the protected area’s main attraction.
“If Fish and Wildlife moves forward with their proposed limit on recreation, I am interested in seeing if we can revoke the easement so the state can dictate what recreation can be done on that land,” Van De Wege said.
The Sequim Democrat and House majority whip — the fourth-ranking Democrat in the chamber — represents Clallam and Jefferson counties and part of Grays Harbor County.
“I don’t want to move forward on this,” he said.
“The reason I am working on this, though, is that I think what the Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing is extremely unreasonable.
“It would have an impact on the people who live here and the people who visit here.
“Jogging and horseback riding exist here with very few problems,” he said.
If there are issues with horseback riding and jogging, he would address them with more signs and education, Van De Wege said.
The refuge is overseen by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
It is visited by 80,000 people a year, an average of 160 horseback riders and even fewer joggers than horse enthusiasts, said Kevin Ryan, project leader for the Washington Maritime National Wildlife Refuge complex, which includes the Dungeness refuge and Protection Island.
Under the 1997 National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, each of the nation’s approximately 450 wildlife refuges that are open to the public have or are creating comprehensive conservation plans like the one proposed for the Dungeness Wildlife refuge.
The plan for Dungeness is available via http://tinyurl.com/pdn-refuge, which includes information on sending comments on the proposal.
The comment period was extended to Jan. 28 to address Van De Wege’s concerns, said Miel Corbett, deputy assistant regional director-external affairs for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific region.
“Jogging is an activity that takes place very, very rarely on national wildlife refuges,” Corbett said Friday in a telephone interview from her Portland, Ore., office.
The easement is “really important” for protecting wildlife that uses the inner bay during winter, Ryan said.
Only wildlife-dependent activities — specifically photography, birdwatching, environmental education, environmental interpretation, fishing and hunting — are allowed on wildlife refuges, although hunting is not allowed at the Dungeness refuge.
Jogging and horseback riding are not wildlife dependent, Ryan said.
Horseback riding now is allowed on 500 feet of trail leading down to the beach on a pathway shared by visitors on foot.
One such walker was injured in a horseback riding incident, which made horseback riding a safety issue, Ryan said.
“The point is, there are more people riding here we need to be concerned about and the impact on the people and the wildlife,” he said.
The horse trail was built by horse enthusiasts and for years has been maintained by them, said Jennifer Reandeau, outgoing president of Back Country Horsemen of Washington, Peninsula chapter.
“I feel it’s not fair,” she said of the proposed ban.
As for jogging, it could scare wildlife and have an impact on species being observed by birdwatchers and photographers, Ryan said.
“Because of the species we have, the public uses we have here, we just initially found in the draft that [jogging] is not appropriate.
“The staff here felt the running thing was an issue and addressed it.”
Dungeness Recreation Area, which is a county park adjacent to Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, does allow jogging and horseback riding.
Van De Wege said the proposed ban was an example of the worst aspects of “big government.”
“Joggers startling animals, I just don’t think that’s something people buy into,” he said.
“When are they going to stop, when are they going to say no humans?
“What is going to be the end of limiting public access?”
But Ryan said the refuge was not intended to serve a wide variety of uses.
“This is a national wildlife refuge, not a multiple-use property,” he said.
“They are public lands set aside for wildlife, but wildlife comes first.
“The activity has to be appropriate and compatible with wildlife and not adversely impact them.”
Van De Wege said the state would have to address wildlife protection when it took back control of the land.
Revoking the easement “is not the best answer,” he added.
“The best answer is for Fish and Wildlife not to move forward with the proposal.”
Ryan and Van De Wege said public comments have been largely against the jogging and horseback-riding bans.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.