October 29, 2020
The year 2020 keeps on giving unwanted news, including for the millions of hard working and outdoors loving hunters and anglers across the country.
The latest example of that comes this week when the Center for Biological Diversity filed legal documents that it intends to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Why you might ask? For trying to expand hunting and fishing opportunities across America.
The potential lawsuit stems from a move this summer by President Donald Trump and his administration, one that opened and expanded hunting and fishing opportunities on more than 2.3 million acres of land at 147 National Wildlife Refuges and National Fish Hatcheries across the nation.
The Trump Administration’s move also increased the number of units in the National Wildlife Refuge System open to hunting to 430 and those open to fishing to 360. It also increased the total of National Fish Hatchery System units open to hunting or fishing to 21.
As noted in this space previously, reaction was swift and positive from nearly all corners of the outdoors world, even as critics complained that the move was potentially politically motivated given its timing in a tense 2020 election cycle and the announcement coming in a key battleground state (Michigan).
Nevertheless, it was still hailed by most as good news for America’s hunters and anglers, many who find accessing places to hunt and fish among the most challenging aspects of the modern outdoor game.
“The American public needs outdoor recreation opportunities for their physical and mental well-being more than ever,” said Kelly Hepler, Secretary of South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks and President of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, in a USFWS news release earlier this year
. “By practicing responsible recreation, Americans can enjoy these new opportunities to get outside to enjoy the lands and waters, and fish and wildlife resources, of our great nation.”
Hepler wasn’t alone in the praise of expanding hunting and fishing lands by the Trump Administration.
“Improving access for outdoor enthusiasts is a critical component to ensuring a bright future for our industry and our hunting and fishing constituency,” said Dan Forster, Vice President and Chief Conservation Officer for the Archery Trade Association, in the same news release.
Obviously, the CBD didn’t agree. In its statement, the group’s carnivore conservation director, Collette Adkins, cried foul on the move to open up millions of acres of land to hunting and fishing activities.
“We’re going to court to ensure that our nation’s wildlife refuges can actually provide refuges for wildlife,” said Adkins in the group’s news release. “We’ve never before seen such a massive expansion of bad hunting practices on these public lands. There’s no sound reason for this, and the Fish and Wildlife Service has either ignored or downplayed the many risks that hunting poses to endangered wildlife.”
What Adkins is apparently ignoring is the fact that without the hard work and dollars of hunters and anglers, these public lands wouldn’t be in place at all for any wildlife species across the U.S.
One example of that is the Federal Duck Stamp, or more specifically, the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp — which dates back to 1934. The $25 stamp, which is required for anyone 16 years of age and older who hunts migratory waterfowl, has raised more than $1 billion in its long history to help buy and conserve more than 6 million acres of wildlife habitat within the NWR system.
“Duck stamps are a great way for hunters, conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts to invest in wetland and waterfowl conservation,” said Ducks Unlimited CEO Adam Putnam in a DU news release about the stamp’s first day of sale last year.
“Whether you hunt or not, buy one or more duck stamps every year to help conserve our wetlands. The federal duck stamp program raises millions of dollars used to purchase and protect wetland habitat in the National Wildlife Refuge System. These habitats benefit waterfowl and hundreds of additional species of wildlife.”
Forgive me, but I’m wondering if CBD’s “Carnivore Conservation Director” has ever bought a Federal Duck Stamp and helped support the very NWR lands the group is apparently so concerned about?
But duck stamps are only part of the success story where hunters and anglers have played leading roles in conserving wildlife species and the vital habitat they depend on. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, such sportsmen contribute more than $3.4 billion every year for wildlife conservation.
In fact, some $11 billion have been contributed by hunters and target shooters since 1937 thanks to the Pittman-Robertson Act, one of the most successful pieces of conservation legislation of all-time. What’s more, sportsmen across the country have put billions into on-the-ground projects that have seen wildlife numbers soar from record lows at the beginning of the 20th Century to the opposite end of the spectrum 120 year later.
Want proof of the role that hunters and anglers help play in the success of wildlife species conservation across North America?
Well, start with ducks, the species arguably the most dependent on NWR lands. According to the NSSF, there were few ducks — and no National Wildlife Refuge lands, by the way — in 1901. And today? While there was no breeding ground waterfowl population survey conducted this spring due to the coronavirus, last year the Fish and Wildlife Service said there were 38.9 million breeding ducks.
But don’t stop with ducks, because there are numerous other wildlife species that owe their current numbers to the dollars and concerns of hunters and anglers who buy licenses and stamps, support conservation groups, and pay countless dollars in excise taxes on equipment purchases each year.
Species benefitting from that include the Rocky Mountain elk, which rebounded from an estimated population of 41,000 in 1907 to nearly 1 million elk today. Pronghorn antelope have seen a similar rebound, moving from 12,000 speed goats as recently as 50 years ago to nearly 1 million currently. And wild turkeys have rebounded across the continent from a low of nearly 100,000 in the early 1900s to upwards of 7 million turkeys now.
But no species is more illustrative of this idea more so than the white-tailed deer. In 1900, the NSSF notes that there were approximately 500,000 whitetails nationwide. Today? There are more than 32 million whitetails, including some 5.5 million in Texas alone this year according to a mid-week e-mail news release from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
In addition to helping wildlife numbers rebound from coast to coast, the NSSF notes that hunting generates 680,000 jobs in America each year, many of those jobs seeing great support this year during the COVID-19 pandemic as a simple Google search (Subject: hunting and fishing license sales in 2020) shows. In fact, in Michigan, one report indicates that new hunter numbers are up 95% in the state since March alone when the pandemic took off across the U.S.
In addition to CBD’s contention that hunting’s expansion on NWR lands is detrimental to wildlife species, also in the group’s crosshairs is the use of lead ammunition on refuge lands.
“The expansion will allow hunters to use lead ammunition, which was prohibited at the end of the Obama administration but then reinstated by former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke,” said Adkins in the CBD news release. “For example, endangered whooping cranes rely on numerous refuges in the Midwest, like the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin, where the Fish and Wildlife Service has authorized use of lead ammunition but failed to consider the risk of lead toxicity on the birds.”
That is, in fact, something that the Trump Administration did allow during its first 100 days in office back in 2017.
But the Trump Administration move was in direct response to last second executive action by outgoing President Barack Obama on his next to last day in office, a measure that was apparently of little importance to the former President and his administration until it was time to move out of the White House.
That Obama Administration move was roundly criticized by individuals and groups in the hunting and shooting world back then, as you might expect. In fact, in the early days of 2017, the National Shooting Sports Foundation wasted no time in blasting the move.
And in doing so, the NSSF ironically called for the same thing that CBD is calling for today, the making of wildlife management decisions based on scientific data and not politically motivated rhetoric that drives social media traffic and sounds good on uninformed ears.
“This directive is irresponsible and driven not out of sound science but unchecked politics,” said Lawrence Keane, NSSF’s senior vice president and general counsel, in the 2017 news release about the Obama Administration’s 11th hour move. “The timing alone is suspect. This directive was published without dialogue with industry, sportsmen and conservationists. The next director should immediately rescind this, and instead create policy based upon scientific evidence of population impacts with regard to the use of traditional ammunition.”
As Keane pointed out a few years ago, the timing of the potential CBD suit now also seems suspect in the days leading up to the contentious 2020 presidential election. More importantly, it seems to completely ignore the hard work and dollars spent by countless hunters and anglers nationwide for nearly a century now, sweat equity and financial contributions that have helped bring numerous wildlife species back from the brink of non-existence.
Put simply, without the care, concern, and wallets of America’s sportsmen and sportswomen, there wouldn’t be much left to conserve in 2020.
Hopefully, cooler minds will prevail if and when the measure makes it to court, and legal hunting and fishing activities are allowed to proceed on lands that America’s sportsmen have purchased, restored, and safeguarded for nearly a century now.
Because when it comes to caring about wildlife species and putting their money where their mouths are, hunters and anglers are wildlife’s best friends — not to mention their best hope no matter who is in office at the end of 2020.