The Sportsmen’s Alliance and dozens of other hunting, fishing, conservation and advocacy organizations have submitted a letter to Director Martha Williams of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) opposing any settlement of pending litigation with the Center for Biological Diversity that would undermine or reduce hunting and fishing opportunities on National Wildlife Refuges.
The letter cites USFWS’ responsibilities to the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, the undeniable impact any such settlement would have on an already underfunded refuge system’s budget, and the fact that state wildlife agencies fully support public-land access to manage fish and wildlife resources.
“What’s especially concerning here is that USFWS might consider restrictions on refuges without any input from the hunting and fishing community or state wildlife agencies,” said Evan Heusinkveld, president and CEO of Sportsmen’s Alliance. “Those who hunt and fish provide critical funding for refuges and shouldn’t be locked out of discussions.”
The letter states that “hunting and fishing are essential to funding and maintaining the National Wildlife Refuge System, and to conserving the wildlife that inhabits the refuges and adjacent state lands. Earlier this month, the Service announced a record $1.5 billion in funding for wildlife and habitat conservation generated from excise taxes on hunting, shooting, and fishing equipment.”
“Settlement through litigation is no way to manage wildlife or conservation initiatives on refuges or anywhere else,” said Heusinkveld. “The tactic of sue-and-settle by the Center for Biological Diversity is well known, and it doesn’t just undermine scientific wildlife management, it forces taxpayers to pay millions of dollars in legal fees and further bankrupts the refuge system on multiple levels.”
The Sportsmen’s Alliance first brought attention to the Biden Administration’s filing of a joint stay in litigation to discuss settlement possibilities in February – with the filing expressly stating that both sides believed settlement was possible. Since then, the opposition to settlement talks has grown to 40 organizations representing millions of sportsmen nationwide.
The organizations signing the letter strongly object to any settlement that would close hunting or fishing or ban the use of traditional ammunition or fishing tackle. Recent revelations by a Senior Attorney with the U.S. Department of the Interior point to the USFWS discussing a lead ban on refuges.
“From the beginning we surmised that banning lead ammunition and fishing tackle might be the ultimate goal of this lawsuit, something that could be implemented within the refuge system and then extended to all public lands,” said Heusinkveld. “It’s an unacceptable settlement to a baseless ultimatum that would impact millions of hunter-conservationists.”
A lead ban on public lands could impact millions of sportsmen, both hunters and anglers, in every state in the country. Sinkers, jigs or other lures containing lead could be banned for fishing, while expensive lead-alternative ammunition would be the only resort for hunters.
The lawsuit seemed a long shot given the 1997 National Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act, landmark legislation drafted and pushed through Congress by the Sportsmen’s Alliance and its partners, which ensured that hunting, fishing and trapping would occur on any refuge where it is compatible. Several of the organizations that signed the letter provided extensive comments on the 2020 proposed rule opening hunting and fishing opportunities. Those comments make clear that the rule already satisfies all applicable laws and advances the purposes of the Improvement Act. The historic law has opened millions of acres to hunting as every Presidential administration since has touted expansion of opportunities within the system.
About the Sportsmen’s Alliance: The Sportsmen’s Alliance protects and defends America’s wildlife conservation programs and the pursuits – hunting, fishing and trapping – that generate the money to pay for them. Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation is responsible for public education, legal defense and research. Its mission is accomplished through several distinct programs coordinated to provide the most complete defense capability possible. Stay connected to Sportsmen’s Alliance: Online, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.