Cibola NWR Goose Hunting Closure

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From Jim Matthews' column.

Hunters participate in pubic hearing at Cibola on reduced hunting program. 2/21/01

CIBOLA, Ariz. -- A total of 55 hunters showed up at the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, many driving 200 or more miles, to attend a public hearing on the proposal to reduce the goose hunting program from seven days a week to three days a week at Farm Unit 2, according to Ron Coleman, a Sierra Madre hunter who attended the Saturday meeting. "Nobody showed up to support what they're doing," said Coleman. The proposal, drafted by refuge manager Mike Hawkes, is implying that the decline of the number of birds using the Cibola area is somehow linked to seven-day hunting and the birds' inability to use the 300-acre Farm Unit 2 until after the hunting season closes.

Cibola once attracted from 22 to 25,000 Canada geese or more each winter, but the number using the refuge is now about half that many. Coleman said that what the refuge staff and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was doing at Cibola was in direct violation of new policy which specifically prohibits refuge staff from trying to micro-manage waterfowl populations, which are managed on a flyway-wide basis. "Are 300 acres (of Farm Unit 2) important for the Pacific Flyway? Hardly," said Colemen. He said both refuge manager Hawkes and deputy regional manager of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Southwest Region, Donnie Browning, failed to provide data on whether or not the subpopulation of Canada geese that use the lower Colorado River Valley is declining or merely have changed their use patterns. Use of the refuge by geese has changed several times over the years.

Coleman said that many hunters were also upset with the USFWS staff for already having made the decision to go to three-day hunting before there was any public hearings or a draft "compatibility determination" document to review, as required by law. Most hunters did not even know a draft document existed until the Saturday meeting. Even though the comment period on the proposed change was extended until Feb. 24, Coleman said that was also inadequate under the law because the draft document had not been distributed until this week. Many hunters refused to attend the meeting after the USFWS regional chief of refuges, Dom Ciccone, told one hunter two weeks ago that he had already signed the compatibility determination document to change the hunt program to three days a week. Ciccone and Hawkes later denied that a document had already been signed. Ciccone said he'd reviewed or signed only a draft. That was the first time anyone knew there was a draft document they could review.

"I have been to two previous meetings and all our comments fell on deaf ears," said Kenny Sakuda, one who boycotted the meeting. "How could you not know what you're signing? You'd have to be brain-dead or smoking something. There's just no way I buy this. They were just wiggling their way out of this jam." Sakuda said he was convinced, in spite of the USFWS' staff repeated denials, that the document was already signed, but they realized the violated policy without having adequate public notification and hearings. "We have their attention now," said Coleman, "We're making them have to justify this. There are some serious chinks in their armor and they know it." Coleman said he hopes the refuge staff will distribute the complete draft of the proposal and all of the scientific documentation, if any, and make this all available to hunters via mail and on the refuge's web site for at least 30 days before closing the comment period. The supportive data is the critical issue.

"Show me some data," said Sakuda. "They don't have any supportive data. Hawkes is just grabbing this off the cheek of his butt." Written comments on the proposal to reduce the Cibola hunting program can be sent to Mike Hawkes, Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, Route 2, Box 138, Cibola, AZ 85328, or comments can be faxed to (520) 857-3420. For more information, you can call the refuge at (520) 857-3253. Copies of comments should also be mailed to Donnie Browning, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, P.O. Box 1306, Albuquerque, NM 87103. Ron Coleman has also organized an informal group to protect the seven-day hunting program at Cibola, and you can reach Coleman at (626) 355-9216, via e-mail at colejean@pacbell.net, or by writing Coleman at P.O. Box 304, Sierra Madre, CA 91024.
 

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