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DEC updating rules for wildlife management areas

An osprey leaves its nest at the Wickham Marsh Wildlife Management Area in Peru in May 2018. The nest is located at a marked wildlife viewing location on one of the marsh’s trails. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

ALBANY — The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation on Thursday released a draft proposal for public comment that would update regulations governing public use of the state’s vast network of 120 Wildlife Management Areas.

There are 15 WMAs in DEC Region 5, which covers the eastern North Country. The closest ones to the Tri-Lakes area are Pauline Murdock in Elizabethtown, AuSable Marsh and Wickham Marsh near Port Kent, and Chazy Highlands in Dannemora.

DEC is accepting public comments on the draft proposal until May 24.

DEC is proposing to update and clarify existing regulations defining the allowable activities and uses of WMAs. The proposals continue to prioritize activities that include hunting, fishing, trapping and wildlife viewing. Among other proposed updates, the draft regulations would:

¯ Prevent the introduction of aquatic invasive species by prohibiting their transport to WMA waters while boating.

¯ Only allow non-motorized boats or boats with electric motors, except when posted open or permitted by DEC. Boats would also be prohibited from being moored, stored, or anchored overnight.

¯ Ensure certain Unique Areas and Multiple Use Areas managed by DEC’s Division of Fish and Wildlife have the same protections as WMAs.

¯ Prohibit the discharge of firearms other than for hunting or trapping, except when using paper targets at areas clearly posted as open to target shooting and with suitable backstops. In addition, the proposed regulations prohibit breakable targets, such as clay pigeons, and paintballs and paintball guns. These measures are important to protect public safety and prevent litter and the destruction of natural resources.

¯ Clarify and make enforceable restrictions on motor vehicles and motorized equipment prohibited in WMAs. Snowmobiles would be allowed on designated routes covered by a minimum of 3 inches of snow or ice, and only between the close of the regular big-game hunting season until March 31. This measure would help prevent the degradation of trails and habitat, particularly during mud season. The regulations also prohibit motorized vehicles or bicycles on posted roads and motorized vehicles of any kind off-road, unless with DEC authorization.

¯ Prohibit the construction, use or abandonment of any structure on a WMA except with a DEC permit. This excludes legally placed traps, tree stands and hunting blinds during big-game, migratory gamebird or turkey seasons with specified hunter identification, and wildlife viewing blinds placed for 10 days maximum in one location per calendar year with specified hunter identification. Construction of stands or blinds cannot be nailed to, screwed into or otherwise injure trees.

¯ Prohibit gatherings of more than 20 people without a permit.

¯ Require owners or trainers to keep dogs on leash and under immediate control except when dogs are being legally used for hunting or training for hunting on lands designated as dog-training areas during designated training seasons set by regulation, when participating in a licensed field trial and authorized by a DEC permit, or as otherwise permitted in writing by DEC.

¯ Prevent underage drinking by explicitly prohibiting anyone under 21 years of age from possessing alcoholic beverages unless accompanied by a parent or guardian.

¯ Include additional restrictions that prevent the destruction or removal of state property, littering, wildfire risk and risks to public safety, and allow other activities with a DEC permit or other authorization.

¯ Remove sections of existing regulations that are redundant or obsolete.

DEC says the proposed changes would help bring consistency with existing rules for state forests, campgrounds and other DEC lands, and codify rules and guidance already in place at many WMAs to make these rules enforceable.

The regulatory proposal is available on the DEC website for review and public comment until May 24. Comments on the proposal should be submitted via email to “mailto:wildlife@dec.ny.gov”>wildlife@dec.ny.gov or via mail to Bureau of Wildlife, NYSDEC, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4754. Use the subject line “Part 51 Regulations” for emails or letters.

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