Wichita Mountains Refuge reopens amid shutdown

LAWTON, Okla. -  With the government shutdown now at 26 days, employees and business across the country, even our wildlife, have been affected. National Parks and Wildlife Refuges have been without staff during the shutdown.

After almost a month of being shutdown, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made a decision to partially open up the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge.

"This is a great thing for the hunter, the public and the refuge," said David Farmer of the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge.

Park officials say the US Wildlife Service used money from  rainy-day funds to partially staff 38 national wildlife refuges across the country for a limited time.

This comes just in time for the annual Elk Hunt in the Wichitas.

"A lot of these guys have been putting in for 15-20, 30 years. They were very appreciative that we were able to put this hunt on," said Dan McDonald, a biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department.

The park does controlled hunts for elk and deer. They also have auctions of longhorn cattle and bison in the fall.

"It's population management for us. Each year we have to remove a certain number of animals and if we don’t it can lead to overpopulation of the elk herd and damage to the habitat overgrazing, so yeah, it's important," said McDonald.

Along with the hunts, the visitor center has reopened and law enforcement is back working. The public been allowed in the park to hike and camp even during the shutdown.

Other national parks have had issues with trash piling up without staff working to clean it up. That wasn't a big problem in the Wichitas.

"We are getting a lot of support from volunteers, the general public. We are driving around and we are seeing members of the general public going around picking up trash and doing what they can do to help keep the refuge in great condition," said Farmer.

This is a temporary reopening. If the government shutdown lasts longer, after 30 days the U.S. Department of Wildlife will have to re-evaluate the situation.

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