While it might not have been completely unexpected, the news was still somber earlier this week as the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department announced the agency’s plans to temporarily close state parks across the Lone Star State.
How long will that shuttering last? As with most things related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, nobody really knows.
While that shutdown affects visitors to historical sites like the Eisenhower Birthplace in Denison and campers at locations like Eisenhower State Park on Lake Texoma, some boat ramps within TPWD state parks — like the Sanger and Jordan boat ramps at Lake Ray Roberts — remain open for now.
To be clear, there’s no question that the COVID-19 pandemic is deadly serious — see the 1.5 million people infected worldwide at the time of this writing. And certainly, politicians and health officials have an unenviable task as they seek to contain the virus and get the nation open for business again.
But in some places around the country, officials are responding to the crisis by shutting down outdoors recreation as states like Washington tell their anglers “No Fishing” and states like Alaska and Idaho tell non-resident spring bear hunters to stay at home this year.
Such actions may be understandable to some, but they aren’t being well received by all in the outdoors world, constituents who argue that the places and activities being shuttered promote the concepts of isolation and social distancing, the very hallmarks of flattening the virus’ curve.
Right or wrong, many outdoors enthusiasts don’t see their activities in the woods and on the water as violating any public health safety concerns.
The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation seems to agree, sending out a variety of news releases and fishing reports in recent days that tout the Sooner State outdoors as remaining open so long as one isn’t required to quarantine (after travel or virus exposure) and continues to abide by the safety regulations put into place by national, state, and local officials.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott seems to agree too, noting in an essential services Executive Order last month that the outdoors remains open — for now, at least — across the Lone Star State.
“This Executive Order does not prohibit people from accessing essential services or engaging in essential daily activities, such as going to the grocery store or gas station, providing or obtaining other essential services, hunting or fishing, or engaging in physical activity like jogging or bicycling, so long as the necessary precautions are maintained to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and to minimize in-person contact with people that are not in the same household,” stated Abbott’s order on March 31, 2020.
To encourage similar actions in states across the country, leaders from Ducks Unlimited, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and nearly 50 other similar conservation groups sent a letter last week to U.S. governors and mayors.
“With the entire country, we are concerned, careful, and committed to effective responses to the COVID-19 virus in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations” the letter read in part.
“We deeply appreciate your current burden of leadership and efforts to find and implement solutions medically, economically, and socially,” the letter continued. “Our organizations will help however possible and hope for good health for you and your communities.
“The outdoors is where we are most able to help. At parks, wildlife management areas, lakes, and other places, we ask for your consideration in keeping managed-use facilities, boat launches, hunting and fishing areas, and viewing areas open to the general public. Barring localized situations that may justify closures, we urge a general policy of maintaining open access which will help families through this challenging time. Nature is an ideal place to keep safe distances among people while simultaneously allowing citizens educational and recreational experiences that provide health, and hope. Now, more than ever, Americans need to have the ability to access these lands for a variety of reasons, including hunting and fishing to provide food for their families.
“In particular, please consider maintaining the openness of opportunities for the hunting of spring turkey and bear, and other in-season species, as well as fishing and recreational shooting opportunities that are timely right now. The spring hunting season is upon us, and if your state’s wildlife management areas and other public lands remain open, this will provide an opportunity for the solitary and safe pursuit of hunting. Fishing also keeps people at a safe distance apart and can help sustain the economy if tackle shops remain open as essential businesses. Several states have temporarily waived fishing license requirements (but not limits), or withheld trout stocking announcements (which attract crowds), or opened seasons early (to reduce risk of crowding). Recreational shooters are practicing social distancing at ranges that remain open and also play a strong economic role by generating the federal excise tax revenue that drives the American System of Conservation Funding (ASCF).
“In recent weeks, many of our organizations have communicated with our members, as well as federal and state policymakers, to encourage safe social distancing practices while enjoying the outdoors. As such, a social media campaign known as #ResponsibleRecreation is underway to encourage the public to act responsibly as they enjoy the outdoors. Similarly, we can support your efforts through our webpages and social media channels by distributing information on available points of access and guidance on safety.
“Thank you for your consideration of this matter and diligence in facing the crisis.”
Hopefully, the nation’s various leaders will continue to allow the ability to safely enjoy the outdoors in the weeks and months to come.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented hardship and uncertainty to almost every American,” said Ducks Unlimited CEO Adam Putnam, in a DU news release.
“If there’s one thing people should feel comfortable about, it’s that they can continue to enjoy the outdoors they love in a safe, responsible, and socially distant manner,” he added.
“We are proud to join many of our partners in conservation and outdoor recreation to call upon our nation’s leaders to maintain public access to the natural landscapes that we hold so dear.”
As our leaders wrestle with how to contain the virus and its effects, we’ll see if they’re willing to listen as the stormy winds of the pandemic continue to blow.
Hopefully, the opportunity to safely find a little peace of mind, some solitude, and a bit of outdoors recreation will continue for millions of hunters and anglers who simply want to get outdoors.
Especially when most of them really don’t like crowds anyway, even in the best of times.