You might recall the Trump administration rolled out an expansion of hunting and fishing opportunities in National Wildlife Refuges through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“USFWS”) back in 2017.
An activist group called Center for Biological Diversity is now suing USFWS, attempting to roll back these opportunities throughout the nation, including in the Everglades Headwaters and St. Marks Wildlife Refuges in Florida.
Disgracing American History
The lawsuit introduces our Refuge System as “the nation’s largest network of lands dedicated principally to the protection of nature… includ[ing] approximately 95 million acres of land and 760 million acres of submerged lands and waters…”
It fails to mention that President Theodore Roosevelt established the National Wildlife Refuge in 1903:
“in a civilized and cultivated country wild animals only continue to exist at all when preserved by sportsmen. The excellent people who protest against all hunting, and consider sportsmen as enemies of wild life, are ignorant of the fact that in reality the genuine sportsman is by all odds the most important factor in keeping the larger and more valuable wild creatures from total extermination.”
USFWS openly acknowledges that our nation’s hunting heritage was the primary driver behind creation of the Refuge System, which has set aside millions of acres of land for conservation of wildlife and habitat, while providing all kinds of recreation.
Further, the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 sets forth management principles guiding the Refuge system and repeatedly speaks to the importance of hunting, fishing, and preservation of these driving purposes.
Allegations in the Lawsuit
Before implementing the expansion in 2017, USFWS put together a Cumulative Impacts Report determining that additional lead ammo and tackle resulting from expanded hunting and fishing opportunities would have no significant cumulative impacts on wildlife.
The lawsuit alleges that added lead ammo and tackle from the expansion will indirectly damage endangered species populations when other species in the food chain ingest the lead and pass it through the ecosystem.
The lawsuit demands further research on the effects of lead shot and tackle and argues that the federal prohibition of lead shot for waterfowl hunting (which has been in place since 1991) should be extended to all hunting and fishing. It also demands that the 2017 expanded hunting and fishing opportunities be revoked until such research is finished.
Glades Hunter is not opposed to government agencies researching the effects of lead shot and tackle as well as potential alternatives, but under no circumstances should hunting and fishing rights or opportunities be revoked or further limited.
Hunting led to the creation of the Refuge system and continues to fund its maintenance in large part through federal duck stamp purchases. Hunters also fund conservation measures directly with license fees and excise taxes. This should be kept in mind at all times, whether a broader transition in ammo and tackle materials turns out to be a good idea or not, which remains unclear.
The comparison of all ammo and fishing tackle to duck shot demonstrates a lack of understanding about different kinds of hunting and fishing.
Waterfowl hunting involves (potentially) much more shooting than any other kind of hunting allowed on these Refuges, which are mostly limited access quota hunts (another omitted fact). Ducks are also hunted in shallow marshes usually, where wading birds are also present. It makes sense to use non toxic steel shot for duck hunting, as there are more stray BBs going into wading bird habitat.
The reality is that on a public land deer hunt in Florida, 0 shots will be fired the majority of the time. It is not like lead is flying all over the place.
Then, when a shot is occasionally fired and hit, the deer would generally be taken to a check station where it can be processed and the bullet fragments removed.
This lawsuit also fixates on lead fishing weights and jig heads, arguing that this lead tackle is bad for wading birds. We at Glades Hunter are fond of the wood storks too.
However, fishermen are not using lead weights in wading bird habitat, with the exception of bass fishermen using something like a Carolina rig, which is weedless and would not break off anyway.
Wading birds stand on the bottom and wade. Lead weighted rigs are for bottom fishing, not skinny water.
The lawsuit also sprinkles in general anti-hunting sentiment, complaining about “hunter-generated noise” and traffic. Again, there would be no Wildlife Refuges without hunters, each of whom pay hundreds of dollars per year in license fees and excise taxes, all of which go directly towards conservation. On the other hand, the general public will drive, walk, and paddle through Refuges without ever spending a dime directly on conservation.
To top it off, the activist group seeks an award of costs, attorneys’ fees, and other expenses from USFWS pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act 28 U.S.C. § 2412.
In sum, the group is insisting that the USFWS spend its conservation funds defending a lawsuit and researching issues that do not make practical sense while stripping hunters and fishermen of opportunities.
We at Glades Hunter condemn this lawsuit and organization. Education and awareness are key to maintaining our American hunting and fishing heritage, full freezers, and tight lines into the future.
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