National Park Service decides to ban hunting in Castle Mountains Monument
By JIM MATTHEWS
Hunting is now banned in the new 30,000-acre Castle Mountains National Monument, according to the National Park Service, which will be managing the new monument. The monument was created early in 2016 by President Barack Obama via proclamation.
The Castle Mountains monument is located on the east side of the Mojave National Preserve near the Nevada border in a popular hunting area, and sporting groups are scrambling to decide if the interpretation to ban hunting is in line with the laws and regulation governing management of the monument.
These groups think Mojave Preserve superintendent Todd Suess, who will also be managing the new monument, has overstepped his authority. Anna Seidman with Safari Club International spoke with Suess Dec. 16. Suess told her NPS regulations stipulate that no hunting can take place on NPS lands unless there is enabling legislation or the land management plan specifically allows hunting.
“Since the proclamation for the monument designation makes no mention of hunting at all, this means that the NPS will not allow hunting,” said Seidman. Seidman said Suess was correctly interpreting NPS regulations, but may be ignoring other laws and regulations that take precedent in this case.
National Park policies indeed prohibit hunting unless the enabling statute for an area specifically authorizes hunting. Seidman noted that the Mojave National Preserve’s enabling language specifically authorizes hunting, so hunting is allowed on the Preserve. Since this area was not part of the Preserve, it is not possible to rely on the Preserve’s enabling law to demonstrate Congress’ intent to allow hunting.
However, Safari Club staff, along with other federal employees who are familiar with land status and public domain laws, are pointing out that the new monument is not National Park Service land. It is a monument merely being managed by the park service. This means that without changes to the land status, either by presidential proclamation or legislation, hunting is still one of the public uses guaranteed by law on these public domain lands. Since hunting was not specifically excluded by the president and since hunting was allowed when the land was managed as public domain by the Bureau of Land Management, hunting cannot be banned without legislation or a publically-reviewed land management plan is written for the new monument justifies a ban on hunting.
A new management plan must be completed by the National Park Service within three years, and it is subject to public comment and scrutiny. Hunting can’t simply be banned by fiat, according to Cliff McDonald, the founding of Water for Wildlife, which restores and build wildlife water guzzlers, catchments, and spring throughout the Mojave Desert.
“Hunting in this area has been closed with no public meeting -- no public input of any kind,” said McDonald. “This land has been hunted forever. I personally have hunted this area for deer, quail, dove, rabbits, and chukar since 1994. Inside this 30,000-acre [monument] there is one big game drinker that services around 75 bighorn sheep, plus all the other desert wildlife. Water for Wildlife has also restored six [small game] wildlife drinkers in this area over the last 10 years. All this work has been done by hunters,” said McDonald.
McDonald also suggests the banning of hunting by Suess might actually be a violation of the presidential proclamation itself which says at one point that “nothing in this proclamation shall be deemed to enlarge or diminish the jurisdiction of the State of California with respect to fish and wildlife management.”
Suess has come under fire before from hunting-conservation groups. Not long after he became superintendent in 2015, he banned the restoration of wildlife water drinkers. This was after the previous superintendents for the Preserve allowed McDonald’s group to restore and rebuild over 60 critical desert wildlife water sources, all done at no cost to the Preserve or public with volunteer labor and donated materials.
Hunting groups said they feel confident that if Suess doesn’t rethink his position, they will be able to get federal legislation to reverse the hunting ban, or a presidential clarification/declaration from incoming president Donald Trump.
[Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 909-887-3444.]