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.

Oregon

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:

North Dakota

The Service also proposes expanding hunting and sport fishing on the following refuges:

California

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

Delaware

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

httpv://youtu.be/sk_5pt9OTLA

Note in this 2010 video, birders, birdwatching and kayakers are mentioned, not hunters. They know birders are their biggest draw.

Florida

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.

Illinois

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

Indiana

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

Iowa

Louisiana

Louisiana Black Bear

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

Michigan

  • 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

Missouri

Prothonotary Warbler

  • 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 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 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

Oregon

Dusky Canada Geese

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

Vermont

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 content 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 NWR3Prime Hook NWR, 4St. Marks NWR, 5Two Rivers NWR, 6Patoka River NWR, 7BayouCocodrie, 8Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries9Seney NWR, 10Mingo NWR,  11Swan Lake NWR, 12Wallkill River NWR, 13William L. Finley NWR, 14Missisquoi NWR.

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