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California Wildfires Prompt Shutting of Hunting Lands

Temporary closures of some federal, state lands come as archery deer season is about to begin.

California Wildfires Prompt Shutting of Hunting Lands

Two deer walk across a roadway after the Caldor Fire ravaged the rural community of Grizzly Flats in El Dorado County, California, on Aug. 17, 2021. (Photo by Jaden Schaul / Shutterstock)

This has been a summer to forget for the state of California.

Because in a steady stream of bad news, headlines have blared out details about the COVID-19 pandemic, the state's political and financial turmoil, a horrible drought that has water-supply reservoirs perilously low, and one of the worst wildfire seasons in memory.

Ongoing forest fires have forced the temporary closures of a number of public lands that many outdoors enthusiasts were looking forward to hunting this fall. California's archery deer seasons are opening up in late August.

The sobering outdoors news came late last week when the USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region announced via news release that a temporary closure of nine National Forests and/or units in the Golden State is now in effect through early next month. According to the release, that closure began at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, August 22, 2021 and will continue through 11:59 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 6, 2021.


Forest units affected by the shuttering are the Klamath National Forest, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, Lassen National Forest, Mendocino National Forest, Modoc National Forest, Plumas National Forest, Shasta-Trinity National Forest, Six Rivers National Forest, Tahoe National Forest. Also, the news release indicates that the Eldorado National Forest in California is already closed through Sept. 30 due to the Caldor Fire.


The reasoning given for the emergency closures is the extreme fire conditions that currently exist throughout the northern portion of the state, the strain on firefighting equipment and resources, and simply trying to provide more safety to the public in general and firefighters specifically. While there are some exemptions to the closures announced, the decision to close forest lands effectively locks out hunters as seasons begin and/or approach.

"Fires are running very quickly due to the drought conditions, dry fuels, and winds," said regional forester Jennifer Eberlien, in the news release. "This makes initial attack and containment very difficult and is even more challenging with strained resources who are battling more than 100 large fires across the country."

With some hunting seasons already underway and more to follow, Eberlien acknowledged in the news release that the decision will limit a lot of recreational activities in the nine national forests that are now closed into early September.

"We do not take this decision lightly and understand how this impacts people who enjoy recreating on the National Forests. These temporary closures are necessary to ensure public and firefighter safety, as well as reduce the potential for new fire starts. I want to thank the public for your patience during this challenging situation."




The decision to close the forest lands has also caused the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to close seven of its own properties in the state due to the ongoing fires.

Those closed areas include Antelope Valley Wildlife Area in Sierra County, Butte Creek House Ecological Reserve in Butte County, Coon Hollow Wildlife Area in Butte County, Crocker Meadows Wildlife Area in Plumas County, Kinsman Flat Wildlife Area in Madera County, Smithneck Creek Wildlife Area in Sierra County, and Warner Valley Wildlife Area in Plumas County.

(Editor’s Note: As this fluid situation continues to develop, it should be noted that there are or likely will be other closures of land in California, including some Bureau of Land Management lands).


Because of that distinct possibility, hunters are urged by state and federal officials to check directly with the appropriate land agency about any wildfire-related closures before heading out on any hunting trips.)

CDFW says that the closed state lands either lie within or are immediately adjacent to the USDA Forest Service boundaries mentioned above. Because of that, the state lands will be closed for the same time period as the firefighting and emergency response efforts continue in the region.

"We understand these closures — even temporary — will significantly impact our hunters, especially with archery deer seasons opening this weekend in many parts of northern California," said CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham in the Friday, Aug. 21, 2021 news release.

"We have a public safety emergency and an environmental crisis on our hands with these wildfires," Bonham continued. "We thank hunters, anglers and others who cherish these public lands for respecting these closures and allowing firefighters and public safety personnel to secure these areas and help protect our wild places and our rural communities."

If bowhunters are the first hunters to be affected by the fire closures, it stands to reason that others will soon be in the same predicament as elk, pronghorn antelope, and even bighorn sheep seasons will soon be impacted.

And that's where some resident hunters might start to get mad since some might not be able to get a refund of their money, even if hunts are cancelled due to wildfires.

According to the CDFW news release referenced above, the state says that "…resident deer tag fees are nonrefundable regardless of land closures due to fire, weather or other natural disasters per the California Code of Regulations, Title 14, Section 708.2(b). Refunds may be issued to nonresident tag holders (subject to specific requirements) and for select elk, pronghorn antelope and bighorn sheep tags."

The CDFW director notes that the agency is looking into options to petition the California Game and Fish Commission to be able to refund tag monies for areas closed due to the ongoing fire conditions. Plus, the director notes that the closures are temporary, deer seasons are just now opening up in the Golden State, and other seasons are still weeks away from their opening dates.

Still, barring a change in fire conditions and/or the weather plaguing California much of the summer, the future looks smoky and grim for even the most optimistic Golden State outdoors enthusiast with plans to hunt in the northern part of the state.

"Our hope, certainly, is that deer hunters will have the opportunity to hunt at some point and participate in part or all of their favorite seasons," said Bonham in the news release. "But we also are prepared to support our deer, elk, pronghorn and sheep hunters who have done so much for conservation over the years."

In the meantime, pending any sort of forthcoming Commission decision, the CDFW news release notes that "…premium deer tags awarded using a first choice in California's Big Game Drawing, elk tags, pronghorn antelope tags, and bighorn sheep tags may be returned to CDFW with a request to have preference points reinstated and one preference point awarded for the species for the current hunt year. To be considered for preference point reinstatement, the tag must be returned (postmarked) prior to the first date the tag is valid for hunting."

The CDFW news release also indicates that while premium deer tags can't be exchanged, any "…hunter that has only been issued one deer tag during the hunting license year may purchase one additional deer tag from the list of available deer tags." (Link: https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=30896&inline )

And finally, the state also notes that a "…complete list of tag return deadlines along with additional information on tag returns, exchanges and preference point eligibility requirements can be found on CDFW's Hunting Licenses and Tags webpage." (Link: https://wildlife.ca.gov/Licensing/Hunting#9941888-tag-returnsexchanges--pref-points ).

So, what's the bottom line here as fall hunting seasons start to appear on the calendar out in the land of Tinseltown, historic gold rushes, and living out the American dream?

Simply this, that the horrific wildfire season continues unabated in California and all bets are off right now in the northern counties when it comes to the effect that the out-of-control blazes will have on current and upcoming hunting seasons this fall in the Golden State.

And, quite frankly, that's no box-office smash or amusement park attraction that anyone wants to see as millions of acres of forest land burns, buildings and homes are destroyed, and lives are threatened and even sadly lost in another year seemingly gone mad.

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