By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the wildlife refuge, has proposed eliminating horseback riding for safety reasons and banning jogging, which agency officials and the Audubon Society say disturbs wildlife, especially the thousands of migratory birds that stop there.
The Sequim Democrat and House majority whip had threatened to explore legislation that would revoke a wildlife-protection easement the state granted to the federal government for the protected area of Dungeness Bay at the Spit, saying the Fish and Wildlife proposal was “extremely unreasonable.”
His plan would have returned control of the bay to the state to allow state officials to dictate recreational activities allowed on the Spit.
The public comment period on the federal proposal was extended to Jan. 28 to address Van De Wege’s concerns, Miel Corbett, deputy assistant regional director-external affairs for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific region, said in an earlier interview.
Comments will be addressed in a final comprehensive conservation plan and environmental assessment that is expected to be finished by the end of this year.
Van De Wege and Audubon Society members who met Jan. 7 crafted an agreement that would eliminate horseback riding on beaches leading to the lighthouse and on an existing combination-usage trail to the beach where a pedestrian was injured by a horse.
“Both Van De Wege and [the Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society] believe separate access for horseback riders can be obtained,” a statement from Van De Wege’s office said.
Horseback riding would continue to be allowed on the beach southwest of the base of the Apit.
Jogging would continue to be allowed on the beach southwest of the Spit access trail toward McDonald Creek, where birds nest in the face of a cliff, but not on popular Spit beaches leading toward the lighthouse.
Van De Wege represents the 24th District, which includes Clallam and Jefferson counties and a third of Grays Harbor County.
Lorenz Sollman, acting project leader for the Washington Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which includes the Dungeness refuge, said he had not heard about the agreement until a reporter asked for his reaction last week.
“We are going to review all the comments, and no decisions have been made,” Sollman said.
“Right now, that, to us, is just going to be another comment because we were not included in putting that agreement together.”
Van De Wege said in a separate interview that he was disappointed with Sollman’s reaction.
“I’m hoping other people say, ‘Yeah, this is a good compromise; this is good common ground.’”
He said he was reluctant to propose taking away the protective easement from the federal government.
“The reason I came out with that was to get some of the federal government’s attention,” Van De Wege said, adding that he has not broached the suggestion to his legislative colleagues.
Audubon Society member Ken Wiersema was one of three chapter members who met with Van De Wege on Jan. 7 to craft the agreement.
“The jogging is something that is very disturbing to wildlife when it’s done along the sand spit when birds are feeding and nesting and potentially breeding in those areas,” he said.
“Thousands of birds use this as a migratory stop.”
The plan for Dungeness is available via http://tinyurl.com/pdn-refuge.
Printed copies also are available at the Port Angeles, Sequim, Port Townsend and Jefferson County public libraries. Printed or CD-ROM copies can be requested from the refuge office at 360-457-8451.
Comments can be sent to the Washington Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 715 Holgerson Road, Sequim, Wash., 98382; emailed to FW1PlanningComments@fws.gov with the word “Dungeness” in the subject line; or phoned to 360-457-9778.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.