If U.S. Fish and Wildlife gets its way, it will open eight National Wildlife Refuges (NWR) for the first time to hunting and fishing, expand hunting and fishing in 89 additional NWRs and expand migratory bird hunting, upland game hunting, big game hunting and fishing in other areas as well for the 2020-2021 season. The species hunted would include antelopes, bobcats, badgers, deer and mountain lions and migratory birds such as mourning doves, among others.
Friends of Animals is opposing the plan and submitted comments to FWS earlier this month.
“Wildlife refuges by definition are supposed to be a safe haven for animals where they are sheltered from pursuit and danger,” said Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals. “ Instead, FWS is catering to a minority of hunters—systematically turning them into hunting preserves, and that’s atrocious.”
This proposed rule would create nearly 900 distinct new hunting and fishing opportunities and is in addition to last year’s expansion of 1.4 million acres of hunting and fishing opportunities, bringing the Trump Administration’s total expansion of hunting to 4 million acres nationwide.
Yet, the expansion comes at a time when hunting in the U.S. is in rapid decline. Less than 5 percent of the U.S. adult population hunts. Only 11.5 million Americans hunted in 2016, representing a decline of 15% since 2011.
Meanwhile, wildlife watching is on the rise, with more than 86 million Americans participating in nonviolent wildlife activities, almost double the number of hunters and fishers combined, according to FWS’s survey on Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Related Recreation.
“The small minority of Americans who kill animals for fun do not represent the public interest. They do not even represent the majority of wildlife enthusiasts,’’ FoA’s Wildlife Law Program said in its comments. “In a time where hunting is declining, FWS continues to artificially prop up the practice by providing more opportunities to a dwindling audience. Meanwhile, Americans who appreciate wildlife without killing find themselves with decreasing opportunity to do so. This does not ensure the continued growth of the Refuge system. It ensures the opposite.”
Proposed hunting expansions include new acres at Willapa National Wildlife Refuge in Washington state and Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge in Texas; the expansion of season dates for existing pheasant hunting at San Luis National Wildlife Refuge in California; and the expansion of existing recreational shooting and fishing to new acres at Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota.
Recreational shooting and fishing will also be expanded for the first time at Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, Bamforth National Wildlife Refuge in Wyoming and at Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge in West Virginia.