Today, Congressman Paul A. Gosar, D.D.S. (AZ-04) released the following statement after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced a draft recreational boating Compatibility Determination (CD) for the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge and the agency’s intent to pursue more motorized boating closures on Lake Havasu:
“This is something you’d expect to see on an episode of Rogue Bureaucrats Gone Wild. The Refuge already prohibits motorized boating on 17.5 miles in Lake Havasu and the Service has not proven any legitimate justification for expanding the scope of these boating restrictions. In fact, the Service has admitted that last May’s arbitrary boating closure was not based on science or merit.
“To make matters worse, the Service tried to mislead my staff and the public by indicating that this new Compatibility Determination could provide an opportunity to reopen the ½ mile in the mouth of Lake Havasu that the Service arbitrarily closed to motorized boating two days before Memorial Day weekend without public comment last year. Shamefully, the Service never had any plans to reopen this area and is now moving forward with more nonsensical closures. Unsurprisingly, the Service doesn’t even have the courage to hold a public meeting on these new proposed closures in Arizona. Holding two meetings three hours a part in Nevada on a Tuesday when working people from Arizona can’t attend doesn’t cut it. The Service just rubbed salt in the wound. I plan to double my efforts to hold this agency accountable for its deceptive actions and will continue to do everything in my power to keep Lake Havasu open for the American people.”
On May 20, 2015, the Service issued a News Release that established new boating restrictions and expanded the no wake zone within the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge, effectively closing motorized boating in an area that had been utilized by recreational enthusiasts for decades. This order was “effective immediately” and the newly closed areas were quickly marked with regulatory buoys and signs. This order was implemented by the acting refuge manager without engaging local stakeholders or providing an opportunity for public comment. These arbitrary closures also became effective two days before Memorial Day Weekend, a very important tourist weekend for Lake Havasu. On a conference call on March 31, 2016, the Service admitted that the idea to close this area was first initiated by complaints made by two paddle boaters.
On June 24, 2015, Congressman Gosar sent a letter to the Service demanding the agency rescind the new restrictions implemented on May 20, 2015, and pursue a community-supported plan for resolving this situation. Click HERE to read the letter.
On July 10, 2015 the Service sent a poorly worded response to the June 24th letter stating that the “Service recognizes the importance of public involvement in decisions regarding visitor use on the Refuge…[and] will initiate a review of the overall recreation boating program occurring on the Refuge. This will include soliciting public input from all users of the Refuge” The Service went on to state that existing restrictions will remain in place till that occurs. Nearly a year later, no public comment period has commenced and recreational motorized boating at the north end of Lake Havasu has remained closed. In the July 10 letter, the Service stated this arbitrary closure was allowed under its regulations in the form of (50 CFR 32.22). However, this particular regulation deals with regulations for hunting and fishing in the Refuge, not motorized boating.
On August 28, 2015, Congressman Gosar’s office submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeking all relevant information on this closure. Click HERE to read the letter.
On December 10, 2015, the Service responded to Congressman Gosar’s request. The FOIA request revealed that two residents made up lies and encouraged the agency to take this action. The FOIA request also revealed that the agency initially opposed taking such action. Multiple emails from the acting refugee manager indicated that the agency believed it couldn’t arbitrarily close the channel and if they chose to pursue such a closure the agency would be required to hold a 30-60 day public comment period. An email from the acting refugee manager’s boss stating that a closure would likely meet resistance and require NEPA compliance was also discovered in the request.
On March 22, 2016, Congressman Gosar hammered U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Deputy Director Jim Kurth during a House Committee on Natural Resources committee hearing over this arbitrary closure and demanded the agency reopen this part of Lake Havasu to motorized boating. Click HERE to watch the video.
Following that hearing, Service staff reached out to Congressman Gosar’s staff and scheduled a conference call. The call took place on March 31, 2016, and lasted 1.5 hours. During the call, Service staff repeatedly tried to mislead the Congressman's staff by indicating that the agency had heard Congressman Gosar’s concerns. The Service stated they would be commencing a public comment period and holding a public listening session on this matter sometime in April and May respectively. When pressed on the call, Service staff indicated that reopening the ½ mile arbitrarily closed in May 2015 would not be an option in the new CD. Congressman Gosar’s staff asked if reopening any of the 17.5 miles currently closed to motorized boating within the Refuge would be an option and the Service responded saying no, making very clear that the intent of the agency’s new CD is to pursue more boating closures on Lake Havasu.
On the March 31 conference call, Service staff indicated that an increase in boating violations in this area were part of the reason for this closure and that there had been 12 citations since 2012. That’s around three per year. The Service also indicated that the impact on migratory bird habitat contributed to the closure. Yet, Service staff admitted that they had no data or environmental studies which documented any wash outs of threatened or endangered species nests prior to making this arbitrary decision. In fact, when asked if wakes had harmed wildlife in this area, staff stated, “I assume the answer is yes.” “Assume” proves no proof actually existed.
Following the March 31 call, Congressman Gosar submitted pointed questions for the March 22 Committee hearing record. Service staff also promised to send maps and various follow-up information in response to questions from the Congressman's staff. To date, neither Congressman Gosar or his staff have received a response to questions for the record or any of the information the Service promised to send.
In the CD announcement, the Service stated it would hold two public meetings in Nevada on the same day, Tuesday, May 3, 2016, at the Avi Resort and Casino.