In 2003 the Fund for Animals filed a lawsuit in the Washington, D.C., Federal District Court in an attempt to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ban hunting on 37 Wildlife Refuges. The Fund for Animals has since merged with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to form the largest anti-hunting group in the world, and HSUS has continued to push the lawsuit through the courts. What HSUS had going for its lawsuit was that the areas are called “Wildlife Refuges,” a misnomer that sounds like the areas should be wildlife sanctuaries free of any human intrusion. What HSUS had going against its case was scientific wildlife management, precedent, that ending hunting would imperil wildlife species, and the fact that hunters paid for the portion of the refuge system that was purchased from private landowners.
Let’s start with science. William Koch, refuge manager of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, said if deer hunting were terminated on the refuge the 8,000-acre property would be a barren, deforested place after only a few years. “Deer hunting is vital to the health of the area. Deer can have a very negative impact on habitat, which is not only habitat for deer but also for many other species,” he explained. In fact, each refuge’s management follows specific rules before they decide whether or not to use hunting as a wildlife management tool. There is a set process for opening areas to hunting that might include an environmental assessment or an environmental impact statement. Each refuge has a stated purpose, and it has goals and objectives. Hunting can enter into its management strategy, as it does at Great Swamp, where deer hunting is a management tool used to preserve low-growing vegetation that many wildlife species need.
Koch explained, “Great Swamp’s main purpose is to provide habitat for migrating waterfowl. Because of that waterfowl hunting isn’t allowed. This isn’t a large refuge. If we put waterfowl hunters out there, these birds wouldn’t have much resting and feeding—a few would be harvested by hunters, but the rest would be chased out. However, exotic, invasive species of plants tend to take over when deer are allowed to eliminate the natural under story of the forest. That’s a very undesirable situation. It sets the stage for invasive plants to move in and take over. We need [deer] hunting on this refuge so there’s a place for other wildlife.”
Kristin Leppert, HSUS’ campaign manager for hunting issues, doesn’t care. She accused, “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has strayed far from its own policy directing that ‘wildlife comes first in the National Wildlife Refuge System,’ and is rapidly converting these treasured natural places into playgrounds for sport and trophy hunters.”
It’s not surprising that HSUS doesn’t care that if deer hunting were halted waterfowl and other bird populations would suffer. HSUS officially refers to scientifically based habitat-preservation arguments for deer hunting as “plausible, but not necessarily true.” HSUS simply feels that hunting is morally wrong and insists that hunting “is fundamentally at odds with the values of a humane, just and caring society.”
As for precedent, The National Wildlife Refuge System encompasses nearly 100 million acres. There are 545 national wildlife refuges. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “Priority uses of the National Wildlife Refuge System are hunting, fishing, photography, wildlife observation, environmental education, and interpretation.” Hunting has been a part of the refuge system for over half a century.
Now onto sportsmen’s dollars: Since 1934 the sale of Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps (Duck Stamps) have generated about $477 million for the refuge system. Another $197 million has been added to the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund as an “advance loan” from the Treasury. And about $153 million has come from import duties on firearms and ammunition and from refuge entrance fees. These funds have purchased about 2.7 million acres. An additional 1.4 million acres have been purchased using about $1 billion from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
For more from author Frank Miniter, check out The Politically Incorrect Guide to Hunting.