The federal government shutdown comes as hunting seasons for numerous species open across the country and during some of the best fishing of the year. In some cases the public has been locked out of refuges entirely, forcing people to into areas that are open, creating crowding and confusion.
Sportsmen's groups on a conference call Monday said they are worried not only about these immediate and personal impacts, but also about the long-term economic losses for many rural communities that depend on the limited hunting season window.
"Hunting and fishing is an $86 billion activity in direct expenditures," said Whit Forsburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, as he opened the call with representatives of seven sportsmen's groups.
"The beginning of October is prime time for hunting and fishing. The closures of Yellowstone and Yosemite [national parks] is getting the attention, but for our community the closure goes further."
Forsburgh said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported more than 90 million Americans pursued wildlife-related recreation in 2011, spending more than $144 billion.
A lack of communication from the federal land management agencies is also forcing some hunters and anglers to scrap planned outings or reconsider annual family trips.
Miles Moretti, CEO and president of the Mule Deer Foundation, said there is a lot of confusion about which activities remain open and those that are closed.
"People are traveling hundreds of miles for fishing or hunting and finding things are not available to them," said Moretti, based in Salt Lake City at the Mule Deer Foundation offices. "There is no communication from the federal government. They can't get information about what campgrounds and facilities are open."
Moretti also pointed out that efforts by federal and state wildlife agencies, in partnership with sportsmen's conservation groups, to do important work on threatened species is being delayed at a critical time.
"One of the things we are involved in, the Sage Grouse Initiative, has been closed down," he said. "There is no work being done on sage grouse, which are being proposed for listing [on the Endangered Species Act]. We are trying aggressively to work on federal and private lands to keep them from being listed. Nobody out there is working on sage grouse."
Hunters and anglers are not the only citizens being impacted, said Desiree Sorenson-Groves, vice president of government affairs with the National Wildlife Refuge Association.
"To add insult to injury, we can't oversee our volunteers," Sorenson-Groves said. "We are losing a contribution of over 40,000 who volunteer their time. That makes about 20 percent more work done all across the nation."
The groups implored Congress to end the shutdown and find ways to fund habitat conservation programs such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Farm Bill and the North American Wetlands Conservation Act.
Southern Utah emergency declared
The Washington County Commission on Monday unanimously approved a resolution declaring a "local emergency" because of the economic disruptions arising from the shutdown of Zion National Park and federally-run campgrounds.
"This closure is having a devastating impact on those Washington County residents that rely on visitors to federally managed land, especially those that rely almost exclusively on visitors to Zion," the resolution reads in part.
The resolution says state law allows the county to provide appropriate aid and assistance in the case of a local emergency. But the resolution was intended to send a message to Congress and federal officials, said Washington County Commissioner Alan Gardner.
The is no financial aid for residents and businesses.