April 02, 2020
By Lynn Burkhead
This article has been updated to reflect Alaska's decision to re-open spring bear hunting for residents.
In one of the biggest COVID-19-related outdoors news so far, the state of Alaska made the startling announcement late on April 1, 2020 that spring bear hunts would be closed through at least May 31 for both residents and non-residents.
"For the safety of Alaska’s communities, and especially individuals most vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang has directed the Division of Wildlife Conservation to close all black and brown bear hunts statewide, according to an ADFG news release.
"This decision will be reevaluated as necessary. All subsistence bear hunts will remain open as a way for residents to have an opportunity to fill freezers and provide for families," the agency said.
Fortunately for residents of Alaska, the state changed its mind a day later.
“Yesterday, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game closed non-resident and resident general hunting for brown and black bear through May 31,” stated Vincent-Lang in an agency news release. “This was done to reduce non-critical travel in an effort to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus across Alaska.
“Upon further consideration, the Department has decided to rescind the resident portion of this closure. The non-resident hunts remain closed. To protect public health, resident hunters participating in spring bear hunts in Alaska are required to abide by all issued health mandates, including social distancing mandates and intrastate travel mandates. Specific to intrastate travel mandates, all instate travel between communities is prohibited unless travel is necessary to support critical infrastructure, or for critical personal needs.”
If bear hunting can fall victim to the coronavirus crisis, is it possible that at least portions of the 49th state’s spectacular late spring, summer, and early fall fishing season could be shuttered as well?
Given the fact that much of Alaska’s sportfishing activity occurs after anglers have crammed themselves into moderately sized boats or float and bush planes to get deep into the state’s spectacular wilds, it certainly seems plausible that fishing closures could also be looming on the horizon in the state.
Mind you, Alaska is not alone in wrestling with such enormous decisions. A day earlier, the state of Washington announced on March 31, 2020 that it was also shutting down bear hunts in some portions of its state.
"Six game management units that were scheduled to open on April 1 for spring bear hunting will now be closed pending further evaluation," said a statement on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. "Nearly 90 percent of spring bear permit holders in northeast Washington would be traveling from outside the area.”
Washington also announced the cancellation of its youth spring turkey hunt: "The youth turkey hunt scheduled for April 4-5 is canceled," stated the WDFW website."Youth who were planning to hunt on April 4 or 5 may still use their tags in the regular spring or fall turkey seasons, pending further impacts," the agency added. "The spring turkey season is scheduled to run April 15 through May 31.”
Given recent trends in Washington—including the state closure of recreational fishing—it would seem doubtful that the state’s regular spring turkey season will go on uninterrupted, although only time will tell.
One thing seems obvious now, and that’s even big-time outdoors recreation opportunities won’t be immune to the growing list of postponements, cancellations and shutdowns making headlines as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
In addition to the closures in Alaska and Washington, numerous boat ramps and smaller lakes have closed in various locations, the state of Michigan has announced the closure of a very popular recreation area (the Tippy Dam Recreation Area), and South Carolina has shuttered its Department of Natural Resources lakes for the time being, although it announced later that bank fishing would be open.
"We are sorry about this," noted Ross Self, chief of freshwater fisheries for the South Carolina DNR, in reports about the closure. "We hope the situation moderates soon so that we can reopen these lakes for public fishing again."
Other states like Texas, Oklahoma, and even hard-hit New York are keeping the outdoors open for business...for now, that is.
But given the growing crisis and its effect on public health and vital economies, even currently open hunting and fishing options could see the closed sign put out someday soon.
Whatever happens in the coming weeks, stay tuned to this space for frequent updates on the COVID-19 crisis and its ongoing impact on outdoors recreation across the nation.