Mojave Preserve remains closed to hunters for deer season opener; DFW fails to notify tag holders

The Mojave National Preserve, a unit of the National Park Service, will remain closed to deer hunters and other recreation users this weekend due to the federal shut-down. The D17 deer hunting zone is mostly contained within the Preserve boundaries, effectively shutting down hunting for 500 tag holders.

There has been some confusion about whether or not the Preserve was closed to hunting and other dispersed recreation. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife was sending out information as late as Thursday this week saying that “hunters may park on open, public roads and walk into the National Park and [National] Forest lands to hunt.”

Linda Slater, a spokesperson for the Mojave National Preserve, said Friday afternoon this was not the case. The Preserve is “closed to all recreational use, including hunting,” said Slater. The DFW had not done any official announcements telling hunters about the closures as of Friday evening.

Major thoroughfares through the Mojave Preserve remain open, but stopping or parking on these roads and recreational use is not allowed. Open routes for travel across and to private property within the Preserve include Kelbaker Road, Morningstar Mine Road, Kelso-Cima Road, Cedar Canyon Road, Essex Road, Lanfair Road, Ivanpah Road, and Black Canyon Road.

Travel on all dispersed dirt roads is closed and the National Park service staff has closed some of these well-traveled routes. Wild Horse Canyon Road and Kelso Dunes Road both have barricades and signs, but Slater said the myriad of dirt roads are not blocked off and the staff is relying on the public’s compliance in these cases.

While citations have been issued to recreational users violating the closure orders on other National Park units, Slater said the Preserve rangers, who remain on the job as essential employees, will be using an “informational and educational approach” with hunters and other users who many not realize the Preserve is closed.

“We’re all very disappointed with the closure as well. This isn’t something we like doing,” said Slater, who said the rationale for the blanket closure was so there was consistency across all National Park units.

Hunters are the most impacted group of users by the Mojave Preserve closure. Deer season opens this Saturday in this region and the quail and chukar hunting season opens the following Saturday, Oct. 19. The bird hunting opener is traditionally one of the busiest weekends of the year on the preserve.

The D17 deer season runs from Oct. 12 through Nov. 3 and the upland bird season is from Oct. 19 through January 26. Slater said that when the government shutdown ends, the preserve would immediately reopen.

Bureau of Land Management lands adjoining the Preserve remain open to deer hunting this weekend, effectively forcing all 500 tag holders into a small area north of the Preserve. This could have a tremendous impact on the small sub-population of the D17 deer herd that lives in this area. Yet, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife did not close the season until the government shut-down ends so this portion of the herd wasn’t overly impacted.

Other states have been granted the authority to open the National Park lands within their states using state funds, but Governor Jerry Brown announced Friday that would not be happening in California because the state doesn’t have the funds.

The state apparently didn’t even see what it would cost to keep the Mojave Preserve open for recreational users until the shut-down ends. If done on a limited basis that only included access to the lands and not opening any of the facilities, it likely could be done very inexpensively. This is because the Preserve is managed more like BLM or U.S. Forest Service properties than other National Park units. Both BLM and Forest Service lands remain open to public access during the shut-down, even though facilities like campgrounds, ranger stations, and offices are closed. The state didn’t see if it could “manage” the Mojave National Preserve this way until the shut-down ended.

As of Friday evening the DFW still had not notified D17 deer tag holders that their hunting zones was mostly closed because of the federal shut-down. The agency did post a fact sheet on the front page of its website announcing the closures of federal National Wildlife Refuges, most of which have state-run waterfowl hunting programs which have been cancelled. This was done earlier this week, and it issued a press release on these closures on Friday. But there was no information on how the federal closures would affect other hunters on federal public lands — National Forest of Bureau of Land Management — and nothing specific on Preserve closure’s impacts on D17 deer tag holders.

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