Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, is calling on the federal government to reopen national wildlife refuges to the public.
In a letter to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Director Robyn Thorson, the congresswoman pointed to a recent decision from Washington’s governor to reopen state-run lands.
Gov. Jay Inslee’s order, which applies to all sites operated by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and state Department of Natural Resources, opens the land back up to visitors Tuesday.
Herrera Beutler wrote in her letter that accessing the federal reserves can boost physical and emotional health.
“The decision to close or restrict public access points on federal land was made in close proximity to state closures in March; consequently, I urge you to take all necessary actions to responsibly reopen federal land without unnecessary delay,” Herrera Beutler wrote.
“The Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge, for example, provides an enormous recreational benefit to the local community here in Clark County. Local officials and residents are extremely anxious to resume responsible enjoyment of this asset that can easily accommodate necessary social-distancing guidelines,” she added.
The Pacific Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service covers 67 national wildlife refuges across Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Hawaii. In Clark County, the agency manages the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, as well as the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge east of Washougal.
During normal times, the Ridgefield refuge usually hosts about 160,000 visitors per year, and Steigerwald Lake sees around 100,000.
Inslee announced Monday that state lands would reopen to visitors, with the expectation they would stay vigilant with social-distancing protocols and remain at least 6 feet away from anyone they don’t live with.
His announcement restored daytime-only hunting, fishing and golfing on the state-run public sites, effective Tuesday.
“This is a data-driven decision,” Inslee said in his broadcast press conference. “This is a decision we make today, but if this virus were to spring back, we may have to roll back some of these measures again.”
A spokesperson for the Vancouver Parks and Recreation department told The Columbian earlier this week that the governor’s decision may make parks safer. The additional recreation options may spread people out and allow residents to enjoy their local parks while maintaining distance, instead of everyone packing into the few open spaces.
In her letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Herrera Beutler emphasized the need to provide low-risk outdoor options.
“During this challenging time, public lands can provide an excellent opportunity for families and residents to safely get out of the house and enjoy our region’s beautiful wildlife, which would be a significant boost to their emotional and physical health,” Herrera Beutler wrote.
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