By JOSH GARVEY
Capital News Service
LANSING- A new federal law allows firearms in national parks and wildlife refuges, including concealed guns and makes state law applicable within the park or refuge.
In Michigan, that means a person with a concealed weapons permit can have a hidden gun, and that an openly displayed firearm is also legal. The change doesn’t apply to national forests, which already follow state laws.
Tim Colyer, the chief ranger of Pictured Rock National Lakeshore, said that the new law will “change the way we’ve historically done things in the National Park Service.
“As a general rule, firearms have always been prohibited,” he said. “Now, Pictured Rock has always been a little unique in that we’re one of 18 parks in the service that has always allowed hunting, So I don’t think it will affect us as much as it would someone like Yellowstone.”
Michigan has five national parks, Isle Royale and Keweenaw National Parks, Pictured Rocks and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and the still unfinished North Country Scenic Trail. There are also eight national wildlife refuges and management areas: Detroit River, Harbor Island, Huron, Kirtlands Warbler, Michigan Wetland, Michigan Islands, Seney and Shiawassee.
However, buildings within parks and refugees aren’t covered because they are federal facilities, a point stressed by both Colyer and Larry Johnson, the chief ranger of Sleeping Bear Dunes.
“We’ll be posting information on the buildings and federal facilities where firearms will not be allowed,” Johnson said
“The state laws that will be in effect don’t trump the federal law that prohibits firearms in federal facilities,” he said, including visitor centers and other buildings.
Lynn McClure, the Midwest regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association in Chicago, said that Sleeping Bear has only two rangers on duty at a time.
“The new law puts an even greater burden on the Parks Service’s understaffed law enforcement division,” she said. “How can two guys keep the peace with the normal things you encounter with visitors during the summer, and now also have to be on the look out for this new sort of potential danger?
“I would hazard to say it can’t be done, or at least can’t be done easily,” McClure said.
Erin McDonough, the executive director of Michigan United Conservation Clubs, said there’s no reason for the national parks to have separate laws from the state.
“The people who are going to do anything illegal with guns are going to do it regardless of the laws,” she said. “All you’re doing is punishing the legal gun owners for no reason.”
One concern arising from the new firearm rules is enforcement of anti-poaching laws because, Johnson said, it will be more difficult to identify illegal hunters.
“It will make it a little harder for us to prove a poaching case,” he said. “Obviously, under current law, carrying a firearm is one element of the crime.
“There’s still no change in the prohibition against using the weapon. We’ll take it in stride and we don’t anticipate too many problems,” he said.
Chris Case, the acting superintendent at Pictured Rocks, said he’s not concerned about that risk.
“There isn’t a high number of game animals here,” he said. “We have a significant numbers of deer, but it’s not a real high number comparatively.
“Even during hunting season, we don’t have a lot of deer taken out of the park, so doing it during poaching season wouldn’t make much sense,” Case said.
Colyer said that the Pictured Rock staff is preparing for any culture shock because of the change.
“We have been and still are in the process of making sure everybody understands exactly what the new law means and how it applies to the park and park employees and a little bit of what to expect from visitors,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure our employees know that people are allowed to carry firearms- ‘here’s what the law says, here’s what that means to us, here’s how we should deal with it if you are approached or if you receive a report.’”
Coyler said that the real impact won’t be felt for a while.
“Some of this we’ll have to find out down the road a year or so when we look back,” he said. “Then we’ll know the answers for sure.”