- Associated Press - Saturday, May 31, 2014

STAFFORD, Kan. (AP) - A federal wildlife refuge in south-central Kansas will remain closed to hunting when endangered whooping cranes are migrating through, but hunters will get a new chance to go after deer and turkey in the refuge under a plan recently approved by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Comprehensive Conservation Plan the federal agency approved for the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge requires officials to continue closing Quivira to hunting when whooping cranes arrive. The 22,135-acre refuge is a stop along the endangered cranes’ migratory trip between Canada and Texas.

The plan also calls for adding limited, controlled deer and turkey hunts, which had previously been prohibited in the refuge, said Mike Oldham, refuge manager. Oldham said, however, it would likely take at least three years to develop a plan and protocol for adding the turkey and deer hunts.

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The call for additional hunting is not new to Kansas, where about 97 percent of the land is private and demand is high for hunting locales, Oldham said.

“So when it comes down to the national wildlife refuges or the public lands like the state areas, that’s pretty much all that people have to do when they don’t own private land or have the opportunity to go hunt on private land,” he said.

Sections of the Quivira refuge have been opened for years to waterfowl hunting in the fall, then closed when the migrating whooping cranes show up. Hunters wanted the service to consider allowing hunting to continue in a section of the refuge. The Fish and Wildlife Service studied that proposal and other issues for about three years before approving the new plan, which details the refuge’s direction for the next 15 years and was finalized May 19.

Oldham said the service considered scores of comments from the public as well as state and federal agencies before making the decision to keep the refuge closed to hunting when whooping cranes arrive. He said hunters typically have about a week or two at the refuge in the fall before the arrival of the whooping cranes, which have been on the endangered species list for decades.

Ron Kaufman, spokesman for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, which wanted sections of the refuge to be opened to hunters when the whooping cranes were there, did not comment on the continued closure, but said “allowing deer and turkey hunting is a measure we support and will work with the refuge managers to help implement.”

Ron Klataske, executive director of Audubon of Kansas, which lobbied against allowing hunting while the whooping cranes were at the refuge, largely applauded the new plan, which also prohibits hunting of rails, woodcocks and snipe.

“This is to a very large degree a reassurance that whooping cranes and other special and at-risk species will continue to be the top priority for the refuge,” Klataske said.

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