The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) today released a draft proposal for public comment that would update regulations governing public use of the State’s vast network of Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs). DEC is proposing these amendments to protect natural resources, promote public safety, and help ensure the multiple uses of New York’s WMAs remain compatible with natural resource protection and visitor interest. 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. DEC is accepting public comments on the draft proposal until May 24.
New York State has more than 120 WMAs containing nearly 250,000 acres, including 124,000 acres of forests and grasslands and 53,000 acres of wetlands. DEC’s Bureau of Wildlife manages an additional 38,000 acres of land, including Unique Areas and Multiple Use Areas, for a total of approximately 150 areas that thousands of New Yorkers visit and enjoy each year.
The regulatory proposal is available on the DEC website for review and public comment until May 24, 2021. Comments on the proposal should be submitted via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or via mail to Bureau of Wildlife, NYSDEC, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4754. Please use subject line “Part 51 Regulations” for emails or letters.
In the draft regulations currently out for public comment, 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 three 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 in, 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, risks to public safety, as well as allow other activities with a DEC permit or other authorization; and
- Remove sections of existing regulations that are redundant or obsolete.