The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice of its intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the agency’s new rule expanding hunting and fishing on 2.3 million acres, in 147 wildlife refuges and national fish hatcheries across the United States. The rule authorizes damaging practices like the use of lead ammunition and killing of ecologically important top predators such as mountain lions.
The rule opens hunting on numerous refuges previously reserved for protecting endangered species or other wildlife. Today’s notice asserts that the agency has violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to analyze and mitigate harmful impacts from the hunting expansion on endangered wildlife, such as: grizzly bears, ocelots, and whooping cranes.
“We’re going to court to ensure that our nation’s wildlife refuges can actually provide refuges for wildlife,” said Collette Adkins, the Center’s carnivore conservation director, in a statement. “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.”
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. 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.
Endangered species like grizzly bears and ocelots can also be poisoned by scavenging on lead-contaminated carcasses. And grizzly bears are now at risk from being killed in mistaken-identity or self-defense shootings by hunters, such as those targeting black bears in grizzly bear territory in Swan River National Wildlife Refuge in Montana. Shy ocelots living on Texas’s Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge may also be disturbed by hunters’ gunshots and risk potential vehicle strikes.
“This rule is just another handout to trophy hunters at the expense of the rest of us who recognize the importance of the national wildlife refuge system to the vulnerable wildlife the refuges were created to protect,” said Adkins. “Rare and beautiful animals like grizzly bears and ocelots now face increased risks of poaching, disturbance, ingestion of toxic lead and more. It’s tragic, and I’m hoping the court will set things right.”
The Center’s supporters submitted more than 30,000 letters opposing the rule when it was proposed this spring. Despite this, the agency finalized the rule, which is now in effect.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has 60 days to respond to last week’s notice. If it does not, the conservation group can then sue under the Endangered Species Act.