Federal shutdown hits home

Buck Hall, which features a popular boat ramp near Bulls Bay, has been closed due to the partial federal shutdown.

You’ve bought your shrimp-baiting license, prepped the boat, fixed the cast net, updated your poles with the required stickers. You’ve spent an hour with your hands in a noxious mix of fish meal and clay binder.

Finally, you and your buddies can indulge in your annual trip to Bulls Bay, that legendary shrimp-baiting spot where you can fill a cooler with jumbos during daylight hours.

You trailer the boat north through Mount Pleasant, up past Awendaw. You’re headed to Buck Hall, a recreation area off U.S. Highway 17 with campgrounds and a set of nice boat ramps near the bay. For years, the place has served as a sort of shrimping headquarters for both locals and out-of-owners hoping to fill their freezers.

You turn right into Buck Hall and hit the brakes. The entrance is blocked.

Two laminated pieces of paper taped to the barricade tell the tale: “Due to a lapse in federal funding, this facility is closed.” Drive around the barricade and you could face a fine of up to $5,000 and six months in prison.

Buck Hall is just one of the many federal operations related to outdoors pursuits that have been shuttered since the partial shutdown of the federal government began Oct. 1.

Here in the Lowcountry, the shutdown has cancelled or closed:

All federally maintained boat ramps, including Buck Hall and Garris Landing.

The Twin Ponds and Boggy Head rifle ranges in the Francis Marion National Forest.

All campgrounds in the Francis Marion National Forest and on other federal lands.

National Wildlife Refuges, including the Cape Romain, Hollings ACE Basin and Waccamaw refuges. Several scheduled hunts were cancelled.

Permit applications for activities such as camping at primitive (non-campground) sites and ATV use in national forests.

Fortunately, hunting is still allowed within the Francis Marion and other national forests. The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) manages hunting opportunities on those lands, and their folks are still on the job.

The closure of so many recreational sites — particularly those that are unstaffed — has angered not only the anglers and hunters using them, but also some of the state officials who normally work closely with federal agencies to manage natural resources.

In an Oct. 3 letter to Secretary of Agriculture Jamie Whitten, DNR Director Alvin Taylor railed against the closure of Buck Hall, in particular, and asked that the Forest Service reconsider the move.

“I fail to understand why the Forest Service could not have anticipated the closure and worked with local partners such as the SC Department of Natural Resources to assure access to unstaffed facilities such as the Buck Hall landing,” Taylor wrote.

“… Our hard-working constituents deserve to be treated with respect, and their recreational and commercial endeavors should not be held hostage nor treated as pawns in a political dispute.”

Robert Boyles, deputy director for marine resources at DNR, said Friday that the federal shutdown has affected a broad range of natural resource work, from sea turtle nesting monitoring to fisheries research.

Boyles cited one example based out of the Fort Johnson complex on James Island. When the shutdown began, state biologists were two years into a three-year study of how overfishing might affect the genetics of black sea bass.

Two tanks holding the fish being studied were housed in a federal building at Fort Johnson. State workers had only limited access to the tanks, and the fish died.

“That’s just one of those pieces of collateral damage,” Boyles said.

Bottom line: Until the government shutdown ends, hunters and anglers should make sure that the areas or facilities they plan to use aren’t closed.

Reach Matt Winter, manager of niche content and design and editor of Tideline magazine, at 843-937-5568 or mwinter@postandcourier.com.