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Federal Government Expands Hunting, Fishing Access At National Wildlife Refuges

Richard Grimes
Nevada's Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge, pictured here, will open up to pronhorn hunting under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife expansion.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has greenlighted the expansion of hunting and fishing access to more than 2.3 million acres and 147 wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries across the nation.

Some wildlife refuges have been open to hunting and fishing since early on in the Obama administration, but the agency says this is the largest single expansion in its history. 

“We continue to take significant actions to further conservation initiatives and support sportsmen and women who are America’s true conservationists,” U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt said on Tuesday.

John Gale is the conservation director for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and he says they’re “thrilled” about the expansion.

“We see access as the number one barrier to ensuring that we have more hunters and anglers out there,” he said. 

He noted that the number of hunters has shrunk, and if this boosts that population, it could increase funding for state programs. 

“State fish and wildlife management agencies generate most of the revenue ... for the most part from hunters and anglers through the sale of hunting and fishing licences and excise taxes,” he said.

For him, this was also done in a fairly concentrated and limited scope, only expanding hunting where he says it could be done in a sustainable way that doesn’t harm sensitive species. 

Colette Adkins wasn’t impressed. She’s with the Center for Biological Diversity, which she said plans to challenge the expansion in court. 

Adkins said it will disrupt ecosystems and add to existing threats like “pollution, habitat destruction, vehicle strikes. And they really depend on our national wildlife refuges to be safe havens.”

“We just keep on finding ways to intrude on the few remaining safe havens that wildlife has, and those impacts just snowball,” she said.

Adkins was particularly concerned about unintended deaths of non-game species and the hunting of predators. 

Federal officials say this was part of an effort to align hunting and fishing on its lands with nearby state public lands. To see which refuges and hatcheries in your state will be affected and what new hunting and fishing access will be granted, go here. To read the rule, go here.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Madelyn Beck was Boise State Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau.

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