WASHINGTON, September 25, 2013- Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced Tuesday that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes to expand fishing and hunting programs throughout the National Wildlife Refuge System. The announcement was made before September 28, National Hunting and Fishing Day.
The proposed plans include introducing new hunting programs in six refuges in New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Wyoming; and expanding existing hunting and fishing programs in 20 refuges in 13 other states. Additionally, the proposed expansion also contains plans to modify existing refuge-specific guidelines and regulations in more than 75 other refuges and water management districts.
“Sportsmen and women were a major driving force behind the creation and expansion of the National Wildlife Refuge System more than a century ago and continue to be some of its strongest supporters, especially through their volunteer work and financial contributions,” Jewell said in a statement Tuesday. “Keeping our hunting and angling heritage strong by providing more opportunities on our refuges will not only help raise up a new generation of conservationists, but also support local businesses and create jobs in local communities.”
Encompassing over 150 million acres of land and water, the National Wildlife Refuge System is divided into 560 refuges, 38 wetland management districts, and a number of other protected areas. In all, the Refuge System provides a habitat for over 220 species of mammals, 700 species of birds, 250 species of amphibians and reptiles, and over 1,000 species of fish. It also protects over 380 threatened or endangered plants and animals.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, under the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966 and the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, can allow hunting and fishing as well as wildlife observation and photography and environmental education and interpretation in refuges when the activity is compatible with the purposes for which the particular refuge was established.
Hunting is currently allowed in designated areas within 329 refuges. Fishing is currently permitted in 271 wildlife refuges. Hunting and fishing programs are managed to ensure the maintenance and sustainability of wildlife populations.
The National Wildlife Refuge System website addresses the apparent contradiction between the idea of refuges as wildlife sanctuaries and allowing hunting and fishing within these areas. According to the website, certain healthy wildlife populations produce surpluses that are harvestable and renewable if managed properly. In fact, the website points out that in some cases, as with deer populations, hunting, trapping, and fishing are actually a necessity.
While fostering conservation, The National Wildlife Refuge System generates jobs and income for local economies. The National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, published every five years by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, reported that in 2011 nearly 41 percent of the U.S. population age 16 and older—close to 90 million Americans—pursued some form of wildlife recreation. The Survey also reported that more than 72 million people observed wildlife, 33 million fished, and over 13 million hunted in the same year. Over $144 billion was spent on these activities.
“Hunting and fishing are healthy, traditional outdoor pastimes deeply rooted in America’s heritage and have long been enjoyed on hundreds of national wildlife refuges under the supervision of our biologists and wildlife managers,” said Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “After careful consideration and review from the Service, this proposal represents one of the largest expansions of hunting and fishing opportunities on wildlife refuges in recent years.”
A PDF version of the proposed rule is available here.
The general public is invited to submit comments until October 24, 2013 at the Federal eRulemaking Portal.
A full list of the affected refuges and water management districts that will be affected by the proposed rule is available at regulations.gov.
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