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Tuesday, June 2, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Landers: Shutdown closes doors on outdoors lovers

A closed sign hangs at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge’s entrance near Cheney. (Liz Kishimoto)
A closed sign hangs at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge’s entrance near Cheney. (Liz Kishimoto)

Because of politics, the gates are locked at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge and a Washington hunter has lost what may be his last chance in a lifetime to hunt elk with a special permit.

River rafters collectively have wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars on Grand Canyon trips scuttled by the impasse thousands of miles away in Washington, D.C.

Federal campgrounds are closed as hunting seasons are peaking.

Outfitters can’t get the required permits to float eagle-watching clients down the Sauk and Skagit rivers because Forest Service offices have been closed as national forest employees are furloughed without pay.

While Congressmen and their staffs continue to draw salaries and show up for work in limos, ordinary people have had their dreams smashed since Oct. 1 by a senseless shutdown of federal government services and closure of some federal lands.

Recreationists who fuel millions of dollars into local economies are in the thick of the heartburn.

Hints emerged on Wednesday that a settlement may be brewing in the nation’s capital, but that would be too late for victims of adventures lost.

Among the hardest hit are rafters being turned away this week in Arizona from prized Colorado River trips through the Grand Canyon. Some groups have been applying for 10-15 years to draw a coveted permit valid for a single launch day. The Park Service notifies lucky groups a year and a half in advance for trips in this prime-time period so they can make the formidable preparations for floats that run 22-30 days through the ruggedly remote scenic waterway.

A group of 16 can have at least $30,000 invested in a trip in addition to travel costs and a month of vacation time they must invest without chance of reimbursement.

The closure that’s affected 401 national parks in the past week is only the second time the Grand Canyon has been shut down since it opened in 1919.

Boat launch closures along the Columbia River in the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area are ruining anglers’ plans during a prime period for trout fishing. The impact branches out to lost revenue for sporting goods stores and small businesses in surrounding towns such as Davenport.

More than one sportsman and business owner is pointing out the obvious: While the federal budget shutdown is a haggle over a law that’s already been debated and passed, the budgets of ordinary citizens are being hammered.

Closure of Turnbull Wildlife Refuge already has trashed most of the week-long season for nine muzzleloaders that drew special cow-elk tags.

“One hunter called and said he’s 75 and finally drew a permit after years of applying,” said Howard Ferguson, Washington Fish and Wildlife biologist. “We have no control over access to the refuge. If they don’t get a chance to hunt, the state will give refuge hunters back their preference points for next year’s permit drawings.

“But this hunter pointed out the odds are against him for drawing another permit in his lifetime.”

National forests remain open to public access during the shutdown, but refuge lands are closed because of the many restricted areas within their boundaries, such as ponds closed to visitors to provide sanctuary for migrating waterfowl.

Greg Koehn, who was named Washington’s hunter education instructor of the year for 2011, said he needed seven preference points to draw an antlerless elk permit for Turnbull, which means he’s applied unsuccessfully for a cow tag for seven years.

“I thought, man, this is like winning the Powerball lottery,” said Koehn, who lives near Newport.

“This really gets personal when they’re messing with the one week you get for a hunt.

“Weather and all sorts of things work against a hunter. … But the last thing you expect is getting your hunt canceled because of dim-witted, overly paid, do-nothing-but-argue, huge-ego politicians in D.C. not doing their jobs.”

Ritchie Norman of Moses Lake is one of nine disabled hunters who has a Turnbull cow elk tag for a special season that starts Saturday.

“God help me, I hope the refuge opens by then,” said Norman, 64, who’s handicapped from the effects of polio.

“I got one other cow tag. It was in 1982 for Manashtash Ridge. Getting a permit gives me a better chance for an honorable hunt, where I can take my time, shoot a cow that hasn’t been run to death and have a little dignity. And we love the meat.”

Norman needed 10 preference points to draw the Turnbull tag. He bought a new .270 to take advantage of his rare opportunity. A friend has taken time off from work to help him get around and pack out meat, since refuge permits allow foot-access only.

“I don’t see how they can cut us off like that,” he said. “We have to park at the gate and go in. It’s not like anybody helps us.

“I beat the long odds to get this permit and I might still be a loser.”

He said he considered showing up at the refuge as he normally would before sunrise on opening day and taking a chance he won’t get caught if the refuge is still closed.

When told of reports that people going behind closed signs in national parks this week were being fined $100, he backed off that idea.

“I live on Social Security disability,” he said. “I can’t afford a fine. … But I still have hope. I’m that type. I never give up.”

Contact Rich Landers at (509) 459-5508 or email

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