U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Proposes 2015 Expansion of Hunting and Fishing Opportunities on National Wildlife Refuges
June 9, 2015 – It’s deja vu all over again. The latest press release from the USFWS
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe today announced as part of Great Outdoors Month the agency is proposing to expand fishing and hunting opportunities on 21 refuges throughout the National Wildlife Refuge System. The proposed rule also modifies existing refuge-specific regulations for more than 100 additional refuges and wetland management districts.
“The Service is committed to strengthening and expanding hunting and fishing opportunities,” said Ashe. “By expanding hunting and fishing programs across the Refuge System we are furthering a rich tradition of providing quality recreational opportunities to the American people. These programs support local economies, help people connect with the outdoors, and encourage people to value nature.”
National wildlife refuges provide premier outdoor recreational opportunities across the Nation. There are more than 560 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts, including one within an hour’s drive from most major metropolitan areas. The Service manages refuge hunting and fishing programs to ensure sustainable wildlife populations, while offering traditional wildlife-dependent recreation on public lands.
Under the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, the Service permits hunting and fishing along with four other types of wildlife-dependent recreation when they are compatible with an individual refuge’s purpose and mission. Hunting, within specified limits, is permitted on 335 wildlife refuges. Fishing is permitted on 271 wildlife refuges.
Hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities on refuges help stimulate the economy and generate funding for wildlife conservation. The Service’s report Banking on Nature shows that refuges pump $2.4 billion into the economy and support more than 35,000 jobs. More than 47 million people visit refuges every year.
Other wildlife-dependent recreation on national wildlife refuges includes wildlife photography, environmental education, wildlife observation and interpretation.
What this press release doesn’t mention about the amount of money pumped into the economy by the National Wildlife Refuge System, as stated in the Banking on Nature Report, about 72 percent of total expenditures are generated by non-consumptive activities on refuges! That’s right, the overwhelming benefits to the environment and the economy are generated by non-consumptive uses of the refuges like wildlife photography, environmental education, wildlife observation and interpretation, not hunting and fishing.
The Service proposes opening the following refuge to hunting for the first time:
Items below in blockquotes state the purpose and mission of the specific National Wildlife Refuge mentioned.
- Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge: Open to migratory bird hunting (youth only).
This is an Urban Refuge! Why would you open it up to hunting?
Located on the outskirts of Portland, OR, Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge is one of only a handful of urban national wildlife refuges in the country. Thanks to the combined efforts of local residents and the US Fish & Wildlife Service, this land was set aside as a refuge in 1992. Ever since, our staff has been working hard to turn the land back to a more natural state within the floodplain of the Tualatin River basin. The Refuge is now home to nearly 200 species of birds, over 50 species of mammals, 25 species of reptiles and amphibians, and a wide variety of insects, fish and plants. The Refuge has also become a place where people can experience and learn about wildlife and the places they call home, whether through self-guided discovery or by participating in one of our many educational programs.1
The Service proposes opening the following refuges to sport fishing for the first time:
- Ardoch National Wildlife Refuge: Open to sport fishing
- Lake Alice National Wildlife Refuge: Open to sport fishing
- Rose Lake National Wildlife Refuge: Open to sport fishing
- Silver Lake National Wildlife Refuge: Open to sport fishing.
The Service also proposes expanding hunting and sport fishing on the following refuges:
- Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge: Expand big game hunting. The refuge is already open to migratory bird hunting, upland game hunting, and sport fishing.
The Sacramento River NWR was established 1989 by the authority provided under the Endangered Species Act, Emergency Wetlands Resources Act, and the Fish and Wildlife Act. Units are located along both sides of the river and serve to protect and provide a wide variety of riparian habitats for birds, fish, and other wildlife.” The riparian habitat along the Sacramento River is critically important for fish, migratory birds, plants, and river system health. It provides shelter for many songbirds and water-associated animals, including the river otter, turtles, beaver, American pelicans, ospreys, and migratory songbirds. Several threatened, endangered, and sensitive species can be found on the refuge including Chinook salmon, Valley elderberry longhorn beetle, yellow-billed cuckoos, Swainson’s hawks, and bank swallows.2
- Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge: Expand migratory bird hunting, upland game hunting, and big game hunting. The refuge is already open to sport fishing.
Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge is a 10,144 acre refuge officially established in 1963 under the authority of the Migratory Bird Conservation Act “for use as an inviolate sanctuary, or for any other management purpose, for migratory birds.” Due to Prime Hook’s strategic location on the Delaware Bay, the refuge has national conservation significance as a designated RAMSAR Wetland of International Significance Site (1999), American Bird Conservancy-Important Bird Area (2000), and a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network site (1986).3
Note in this 2010 video, birders, birdwatching and kayakers are mentioned, not hunters. They know birders are their biggest draw.
- St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge: Expand upland game hunting and big game hunting. The refuge is already open to migratory bird hunting and sport fishing.
The refuge was established in 1931 to provide wintering habitat for migratory birds. It is one of the oldest refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System. It encompasses over 70,000 acres spread out between Wakulla, Jefferson, and Taylor counties, and includes about 43 miles along the Gulf Coast of northwest Florida.” The refuge includes coastal marshes, islands, tidal creeks and estuaries of seven north Florida rivers, and is home to a diverse community of plant and animal life. The refuge is designated as a Globally Important Bird Area (IBA)4.
- Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge: Add big game hunting. The refuge is already open to migratory bird hunting and sport fishing.
- Great River National Wildlife Refuge, IL and MO: Expand upland game hunting and big game hunting. The refuge is already open to migratory bird hunting and sport fishing.
- Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge, IL and MO: Expand migratory bird hunting and big game hunting. The refuge is already open to upland game hunting and sport fishing.
The refuge was established in 1958 to protect and enhance habitat for migratory birds. Located between the Mississippi River and Illinois River, the refuge encompasses 9,225 acres of riverine and floodplain habitat scattered around the confluence of the rivers. The mosaic of wetlands, open water, bottomland forests and prairies provides habitat for numerous mammals, amphibians, reptiles, fish and nearly three hundred bird species. The refuge offers opportunities for hiking and biking trails, canoeing and kayaking on Swan Lake, bank fishing, and family friendly programs and events.” Please note that the Batchtown, Portage Island, Gilbert Lake, and most of the Calhoun Division are closed from Oct. 16-Dec. 31 to provide inviolate sanctuary for migratory birds.5
- Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge and Management Area: Expand migratory bird hunting, upland game hunting, and big game hunting. The refuge is already open to sport fishing.
The refuge was established to provide resting, feeding, and nesting habitat for migratory birds, to maintain and increase biodiversity, to restore, protect, and manage the river corridor of bottomland hardwood wetlands, to improve the water quality of the Patoka River, to develop citizen understanding and support for natural resources, and provide wildlife-related education and recreation opportunities.” The Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge and satellite unit Cane Ridge Wildlife Management Area have both been designated as Important Bird Areas by the National Audubon Society because of large nesting populations of prothonotary warblers and interior least terns.6
- Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, IA and MN: Expand migratory bird hunting, upland game hunting, and big game hunting.
- Bayou Cocodrie National Wildlife Refuge: Expand migratory bird hunting, upland game hunting, and big game hunting.
After acquisition from The Nature Conservancy, Bayou Cocodrie National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1990 for the conservation and enhancement of wetlands; general wildlife management as a unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System, including management of migratory birds; and fish and wildlife-oriented recreational activities.” Both hunting and fishing are permitted on Bayou Cocodrie National Wildlife Refuge. Because of its large contiguous stand of bottomland hardwood forest, Bayou Cocodrie National Wildlife Refuge was designated as critical habitat and serves as a corridor for the Louisiana black bear between Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge and Red River Wildlife Management Area. Other recreational users should be aware of hunting seasons on the refuge. Visitors are encouraged to wear hunter orange during hunting seasons for safety.7
The Louisiana Black Bear (shown above) was listed as threatened within its historic range (defined as southern Mississippi, Louisiana, and east Texas) under the Endangered Species Act on January 7, 1992 (57 FR 588), due to extensive habitat loss and modification, as well as human-related mortality. The Louisiana black bear’s threatened status warrants protection under sections 7 and 9 of the Endangered Species Act. The State of Louisiana has increased fines for illegal killing of bears. Black bears are featured as priority species for protection and management on the Tensas and Atchafalaya River National Wildlife Refuges, state-owned wildlife management areas, and on certain privately-owned tracts. The Louisiana black bear was designated the official state mammal of Louisiana in 1992.8
- Seney National Wildlife Refuge: Expand migratory bird hunting, upland game hunting, and big game hunting. The refuge is already open to sport fishing.
Seney National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1935 as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife.” The Whitefish Point Unit of the Seney National Wildlife Refuge is located nearly 80 miles away from the headquarters. This 53-acre tract is renowned for its concentrations of birds during migration. Each year thousands of raptors, passerines and waterbirds funnel through the point, stopping here to replenish energy reserves before or after venturing across Lake Superior. The area is recognized as a Globally Important Bird Area for birds migrating between the US and Canada.9
- Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge: Expand upland game hunting. The refuge is already open to migratory bird hunting, big game hunting, and sport fishing.
- Mingo National Wildlife Refuge: Expand big game hunting. The refuge is already open to migratory bird hunting, upland game hunting and sport fishing.
Mingo National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1944 under the authority of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act as a resting and wintering area for waterfowl and other migratory birds, and for the preservation of bottomland hardwood forest.” Mingo National Wildlife Refuge also contains a 7,730-acre Wilderness Area designated as Wilderness by Congress under the 1964 Wilderness Act to “…protect and preserve the wilderness character…for the use and enjoyment of the American people in a way that will leave these areas unimpaired for future use and enjoyment as wilderness.” Mingo National Wildlife Refuge is recognized as an Important Bird Area by the Audubon Society as the refuge supports bird species and habitats that are of conservation priority.10
- Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge: Expand migratory bird hunting, upland game hunting, and big game hunting. The refuge is already open to sport fishing.
Swan Lake Refuge is managed as “a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife”. The purposes of the refuge are: (1) to act as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife, (2) for use as an inviolate sanctuary, or for any other management purpose, for migratory birds, and (3) to carry out the national migratory bird management program.” Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge is designated as an Important Birding Area for Missouri.11
New Jersey/New York
- Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge: Add upland game hunting and expand big game hunting. The refuge is already open to migratory bird hunting and sport fishing.
Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge was established to conserve and enhance populations of wildlife and their habitats, to protect and enhance water quality, and to provide opportunities for wildlife-dependent recreation and research. The refuge conserves the biological diversity of the Wallkill Valley by protecting and managing land, with a special emphasis on forest-dwelling and grassland birds, migrating waterfowl, wintering raptors, and endangered species. The North American Waterfowl Management Plan identifies the Wallkill River bottomlands as a priority focus area for waterfowl management within New Jersey.”12
- William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge: Expand big game hunting.
Established in 1964, the William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge’s primary management goal is to provide wintering habitat for dusky Canada geese. Unlike other Canada goose subspecies, duskies have limited summer and winter ranges. They nest in Alaska’s Copper River Delta and winter almost exclusively in the wetlands of the Willamette Valley—much of which was drained to provide open fields for agriculture and pasture during the 19th century European settlement.”13
- Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge: Expand migratory bird hunting, upland game hunting and big game hunting. The refuge is already open to sport fishing.
The Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1943 to provide habitat for migratory birds. It consists of 6,729 acres, mostly wetland habitats, which support a variety of migratory birds and other wildlife.” The 900 acre Maquam bog is designated as a Research Natural Area and the refuge was designated as an Important Bird Area in partnership with the Audubon Society. The Refuge in partnership with other publicly owned (State of Vermont) lands has been designated a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention.14
If you made it through this entire list of changes to these refuges, you may have noticed how many times the words “inviolate sanctuary” were used in the descriptions of the refuges. The definition of inviolate is: free from violation, injury, desecration, or outrage; undisturbed, untouched, unbroken, not infringed. Does that sound like an accurate description of what these refuges are becoming?
Did you notice how many of these refuges were designated as Important Bird Areas (IABs)? How many included wildlife listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)?
I contend that the powers that be at the US Fish & Wildlife Service know that wildlife watchers, birders, hikers, kayakers, wildlife photographers and other non-consumptive users of the National Wildlife Refuge System are the majority of the system’s users. So the question becomes, why do they keep kowtowing to the hunting and fishing contingent? The only answer I can come up with is that they collect fees from those users and view them as their only source of revenue.
According to the figures from the aforementioned USFWS “Banking on Nature” report, there are 55 times more wildlife watchers than waterfowl hunters, so why not give the wildlife watchers an avenue to support the National Wildlife Refuges? Why not create a Wildlife Conservation Stamp that non-consumptive users would be more than happy to purchase to increase the National Wildlife Refuge coffers? What do you think? Does that sound like a simple solution to the decreased funding coming from the dwindling numbers of hunters and fishers?
On a similar, very important issue of National Wildlife Refuge use, please read my latest post and support a new congressional bill to “End Trapping on National Wildlife Refuges.” Did you know that an estimated 300 refuges allow trapping of wild animals? The vast majority of trappers utilizing body-gripping traps, many of which are banned in over 88 countries! Why are they still allowed in the United States?
References: 1Tualatin River NWR,2Sacramento River NWR, 3Prime Hook NWR, 4St. Marks NWR, 5Two Rivers NWR, 6Patoka River NWR, 7BayouCocodrie, 8Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, 9Seney NWR, 10Mingo NWR, 11Swan Lake NWR, 12Wallkill River NWR, 13William L. Finley NWR, 14Missisquoi NWR.
Larry- Thank you for this important posting. In spite of growing numbers of birders and the need to allocate more assess for our activities, not to mention the expansion of moth, butterfly enthusiasts, the old guard clings to the notion that Hunting must be permitted everywhere possible. I am now opposing these almost desperate measures. There are better ways to enjoy nature than having to kill it.
At the highest levels of our USFWS, I wish we were seeing more enlightened management, but given the current state of Congress, perhaps this is the way to secure funding instead of face cutbacks.
Otherwise, every trend is going in other directions than this and USFWS knows it.
Larry, you make an excellent point regarding the visibility of incoming funds from hunters and fishermen, and the obscurity of birder-based financial support to communities near refuges to the eyes of the USFWS. Maybe we need to shove some greenbacks in their faces.
We all pay to use state and national parks, and I find it hard to understand why there is such resistance to a refuge stamp at all levels of government. It’s MONEY, for heaven’s sake. Some states, like Florida, let you pay extra to “support wildlife” when you renew your auto registration. This would pale in comparison to an annual usage stamp. Isn’t it time for all of us to bite the bullet, open a small crack in our wallets, and assure a refuge in the refuge?
Thank you very much for bringing this to our attention. It is extremely upsetting to learn that more hunting will take place on these refuges. What next!?
Thank you for your thoughtful reply Timothy. It is frustrating to see the USFWS going this route when it should be so much easier AND more profitable to tap into the vast and growing numbers of wildlife enthusiasts for our support rather than trying desperately to increase the hunting population. Maybe after they beat that dead horse for awhile the old guard will be replaced with younger, more “enlightened” management, and things will begin to turn around. As to the current state of Congress, I guess we are all becoming aware of that monumental problem as we see a plethora of anti-environmental legislation proposed.
I congratulate you on your work with the Prairie-Chicken! How is that endeavor going? I can’t believe they are still hunted while being on the brink of extinction! Is their a website where people can go to help that cause?
Hello Steve and thank you for your continued support of the Wildlife Conservation Stamp effort! I know we would all love to “shove some greenbacks in their faces” if we had an avenue to do so. You would think that they would, at the very least, begin tracking their Duck Stamp sales to find out who is purchasing those stamps.
As for your comment that “we all pay to use state and national parks,” I recently wrote a post showing that we all actually pay for the National Wildlife Refuges also: http://10000birds.com/the-north-american-model-of-wildlife-conservation-and-who-pays-for-it.htm
This is the second year in a row that Dan Ashe, USFS Director has done this exact same thing. Is he trying to drive away the overwhelming majority of refuge users? I know I don’t visit wildlife refuges on hunting days. Even if the carnage is happening in a different location on the refuge, wildlife enthusiasts don’t want to listen to the constant booming of shotguns being discharged when trying to identify a distant bird call or film wildlife behavior. Why should a group that represents less than 6% of the population have so much control over what activities are offered on our National Wildlife Refuges?
Actually, hunting on wildlife refuges makes since. After all, wildlife refuges were created to conserve wildlife, and hunting is also a form of conservation. One of the biggest misunderstandings about hunters is that they do what they do simply to kill. I am sure that some hunters hunt simply to kill, but all hunters should not be judged by a few (as a bird watcher, I would be regarded as one unpleasant person if I were judged based on certain other bird watchers; the point being, don’t judge everyone in a group by a few of the group). Indeed, most hunters, such as myself, not only hunt for conservation reasons, but also use the animal that they killed, whether that be eating the meat, using the hides, or in many instances, both.
Also, an extremely large amount of money for state conservation projects comes from hunters and fishermen through the purchase of hunting/fishing licenses, purchases of wildlife stamps, or even donations, among others ways. As already noted, more conservation money comes from hunters, trappers, and fishermen than comes from bird watchers. Bird watchers may outnumber the hunters in the United States, but hunters provide a lot more money for conservation than bird watchers do. And the reason is because the vast majority of hunters aren’t the big-bad killing machines that they are portrayed as; they are conservationists in one of the purest forms of the word.
I’m sorry Henry but I disagree with the contention that hunting is conservation. Does the killing of wolves in Washington because a rancher runs his cattle on public land count as conservation? How about predator hunts and government killing of hundreds of thousands of coyotes every year in this country? Is that conservation? I could go on but suffice it to say that the examples of hunting NOT being conservation are numerous.
As far as who pays for the majority of our wildlife conservation in this country, you may want to read my post on “The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and Who Pays for It”
If you don’t want to read it, I will let you know in advance, it’s not the hunters, trappers and fishermen.
You have a right to your opinion, but on the contrary, Larry, there are many examples of hunting being conservation. In fact, all of your examples help prove that point. If that many coyotes can be killed each year and there is still a healthy coyote population (I’m not sure if the number you listed is correct, I haven’t checked. However, I’ll take your word for it.), then the hunting of coyotes is definitely necessary. If coyotes weren’t hunted to that extent, their population would be exploding (even more so than it already is), and would be causing trouble for many people, not to mention other animal species. Another example would be rabbits. They are hunted extensively in many states, but still have a healthy, even growing, population. The same goes with deer, squirrels, raccoons, and many other species.
Also, I read your article by following the link that you posted, and I have several comments. First, I did not say that hunters provide the majority of funds for the national park system, forest service, etc. I will acknowledge that they do not. But, as I did say, hunters provide the vast majority of state conservation funds in states with a high number of hunters such as Pennsylvania, Michigan or Ohio. You also must consider that there is a federal excise tax on hunting equipment. All of that money is distributed to states for conservation purposes, and thus millions of dollars provided by hunters through the purchase of bows, arrows, tree stands, etc. also provides much money for state conservation. The USFWS website states that hunters provide over $200 million from this excise tax alone on hunting equipment. However, it also goes further, saying that hunters are the PRIMARY SOURCE of funding for most state wildlife conservation efforts, which is exactly what I said*.
Henry, actually there are a couple of reasons why the coyote has expanded its range over the last 150 years or more. Coyotes live in groups where only the alpha male and female reproduce. However, if one member of that pair is killed, the group’s social structure is disrupted, and the surviving females start to have pups. With fewer coyotes competing for food, more pups are born in each litter, and more of those pups survive. Coyotes from outside the area also move in. The result: Within a year or two, there are as many or more coyotes in an area where the animals have been killed than before. Therefore, killing coyotes increases their populations rather than diminishing them. http://projectcoyote.org/CoyotesUnderFire.pdf
The other significant reason for increased coyote numbers is the extermination of other apex predator species like the cougar, grisly bear and wolf. Prior to the near extermination of wolves and cougars, the coyote was most numerous in grasslands inhabited by bison, antelope, elk and other deer, doing particularly well in short grass areas with prairie dogs, though it was just as much at home in semiarid areas with sagebrush and jackrabbits or in deserts inhabited by cactus, kangaroo rats and rattlesnakes. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coyote
As humans altered this ecological balance by killing off the gray wolf, the coyote took over, expanding its range from Mexico, the Southwest, and the Midwest to nearly all North America, from Northern California to Alaska and the East Coast.
The other obvious contraindication to hunting being conservation is the “trophy hunter.” Natural predators like the mountain lion, grisly bear and wolf take the weakest prey, making the herd stronger. Trophy hunters take the biggest and most powerful of the animals they hunt, thereby genetically weakening the herd.
In response to your information on the taxes collected on hunting and fishing equipment, commonly known as the Pittman-Robertson Act, you must realize that much of that money comes from sales to fishermen and target shooters. According to the NSSF, target shooters spend about the same amount of money on equipment as hunters. http://www.nssf.org/PDF/research/TargetShootingInAmericaReport.pdf
In addition to that fact, in the early 1970’s, the Pittman-Robertson Act was amended to mandate that half of the money from each of the new taxes on handguns and archery equipment must be used to educate and train hunters through the creation and maintenance of hunter safety classes and shooting/target ranges, obviously only benefiting the hunters and shooters, not contributing to wildlife conservation. https://goo.gl/MKRyf3
In conclusion, I suggest that the USFWS could greatly increase revenue by catering to the non-consumptive user of the Refuge System (which is what this post is about) rather than to the much smaller numbers of consumptive users.
Perhaps, instead of leaving such far-reaching management decisions to individual USFWS directors/staff, the refuges should poll the public, especially the refuge visitors, as to what uses they would like to see permitted. Perhaps there isn’t even a demand for more hunting in a particular area. If so, then why not tailor operations at a refuge to that portion of the public most likely to use it, if the ultimate goal is really to please public users and not protect the habitat & wildlife?
There are plenty of positive & negative reasons to allow fishing, hunting, or any other use, just as there are plenty of good & bad hunters/fishers AND non-consumptive users. I always see more litter in areas open to fishing, including broken or discarded fishing line, empty bait containers, broken or discarded hooks or lures – all of which are hazardous to humans and wildlife, and indicative of slob fishermen, who also hurt those fishermen who are not slobs. There are also empty beer cans wherever fishing & hunting are allowed; hunting under the influence is a little-addressed issue. I also see off-trail damage from birders & photographers, not to mention direct harassment and stressing of birds & wildlife by both groups by those who want to see &/or photograph the birds with no real concern for their welfare.
Perhaps the best solution for the welfare of the wildlife and for protecting the habitat is to make it a TRUE refuge – NO HUMANS ALLOWED! Now there’s a thought!