CHATHAM – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to allow hunting on the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge for the first time since its establishment in 1944.
The refuge is proposing a public use hunt program for migratory waterfowl and coyote, and will hold an information session on the plan on April 30 from 3 to 6 p.m. at the community center. The draft hunt plan, compatibility determinations and environmental assessments are available on the refuge website, www.fws.gov/refuge/Monomoy.
According to Refuge Manager Matt Hillman, the proposal is in response to a Department of the Interior directive to open additional public lands to recreational opportunities.
Under the draft plan, hunting for both coyote and waterfowl will follow Massachusetts laws and regulations as well as seasons, said Hillman, with the exception of the coyote hunting season. The Massachusetts coyote hunting season begins in October, but because some shorebird management and research activities on the island are still going on at that time, coyote hunting on the refuge won't be allowed until November and will end March 1. Coyote hunting also will not be allowed when seal researchers are on the island, and will be restricted from areas along the eastern shore where gray seals haul out.
Coyotes were first recorded on the refuge in 1996. Because they prey on shorebirds, especially when they have pups, the refuge has conducted lethal coyote removal since 1998. In the past few years, two to four adults have been killed in the spring, Hillman said, to prevent them from creating dens; more are sometimes taken over the course of the season to protect the tern colony and plover nesting areas. It would be very difficult to eradicate coyotes from the refuge, he added; they are strong swimmers and easily cross the water between the mainland and the island. Recent shoaling has made that even easier.
Allowing coyote hunting on the island is not meant to take the place of or supplement the refuge's predator management program, he said. Coyotes are part of the island's ecosystem and help keep in check the population of smaller predators such as fox and raccoon, which also prey on shorebirds.
Coyote hunting will be allowed on most of North and South Monomoy, approximately 3,000 acres of upland area. Because of the remoteness of the island and the time of year coyote hunting will be allowed—during the winter when the area experiences its worst weather—Hillman said it's not likely many hunters will make the trip.
“There's a lot of challenges associated with accessing these islands,” he said. Hunting will not be allowed at night.
Hunting of ducks, geese and coot will be allowed on open waters between the southern portion of South Monomoy Island and the administrative boundary to the west, which stretches into Nantucket Sound about a half mile at the southern tip to 1.5 miles at the island's narrowest point. The area encompasses approximately 3,080 acres, according to the draft hunt plan. Waterfowl hunting now occurs in town and state waters near the refuge, and the plan acknowledges that hunters probably stray across the refuge boundary.
While coyote hunting was not mentioned in the refuge's comprehensive conservation plan approved in 2016, waterfowl hunting was covered and elicited numerous comments, both pro and con.
The town and state continue to dispute the western boundary of the refuge, claiming that it should be low water, not the administrative boundary in Nantucket Sound. Hillman said that will not impact the hunting program, since it adheres to existing state regulations. Under the draft plan, hunters would not require separate permits from the refuge but would have to have all required Massachusetts hunting permits and licenses.
Monomoy hosts the largest common tern nesting colony on the eastern seaboard.
Hillman said the plan is still in draft form and comments received at the public information session and in writing will be reviewed before it is finalized. The comment period closes May 10. Officials hope to implement the plan in the fall, he said. Comments can be sent by email to email@example.com, or to Hunt Plan, Monomoy NWR, 30 Wikis Way, Chatham, MA 02633.