While residents of the United States are quarantined at home, conserving resources in the midst of global pandemic and the highest unemployment rate in decades, a proposal from the Trump administration threatens to open 2.3m acres of wildlife refuge and fish hatchery land for hunting and fishing.
If passed, the new rules would allow the hunting of deer, bears, elk, mountain lions and migratory birds on public lands across the US. According to CBS News, Interior Department figures attribute more than $156 billion in 2015 to hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities.
Says Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, “America’s hunters and anglers now have something significant to look forward to in the fall as we plan to open and expand hunting and fishing opportunities across more acreage nationwide than the entire state of Delaware.”
However, while the opportunity to hunt on these public lands is being touted as progress by the Trump administration, it comes as a slap in the face to state and local officials who have been asking for resources to aid in pandemic relief since the Coronavirus first began claiming lives in February. According to the Independent, a collection of US governors and mayors addressed the Trump administration in a March 20 letter, asking for a moratorium on “all open public comment periods concerning both active rulemakings and non-rulemaking notices across every federal department or agency” as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The request fell on deaf ears.
“Instead of responding to pleas by state and local officials for needed agency resources, assistance, and help during this generational pandemic, Secretary Bernhardt made a tone-deaf announcement that by no means could ever make up for the hunting opportunities and wildlife lost as a result of Trump’s deregulatory agenda decimating our public lands and environmental protections,”
said Western Values Project director Jayson O’Neill.
Bernhardt said hunting was important to preserve as an American tradition, praising president Trump’s continued efforts to remove Obama-era conservation policies initially established with the backing of the country’s leading environmental scientists and conservation-focues organizations.
“President Trump is committed to expanding public access on public lands, and this proposal is executing on that directive by opening and increasing more access to hunting and fishing by the Fish and Wildlife Service at more stations and across more acres than ever before,” Bernhardt wrote. “Hunting and fishing are more than just traditional pastimes as they are also vital to the conservation of our lands and waters, our outdoor recreation economy, and our American way of life.”
Grand Canyon and Zion national parks have been closed off to discourage the spread of the Novel Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), as have state and local parks across the U.S. Meanwhile, Bernhard has directed the National Park Service to waive entrance fees, FOX News reports.
At risk of being opened up to hunting and fishing are several lands within the National Wildlife Refuge System, founded by president Theodore Roosevelt in 1903, the Washington Post reports. The Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, created the same year to protect threatened birds from hunters, is on the list, as are:
- Mountain lions and mule deer at Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, Arizona.
- Bobcats, fox, and mountain lions at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, Arizona.
- Migratory birds at Leslie Canyon and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuges, Arizona.
- Alligators at Banks Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia.
- Migratory birds at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, Indiana.
- White-tailed deer at Seatuck National Wildlife Refuge, New York.
- Mule and black-tailed deer, elk and wild turkey at Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery, Washington.
- Bears at Jordan River National Fish Hatchery. Michigan.
- Migratory birds at Rydell National Wildlife Refuge and Fallon National Wildlife Refuge, Nevada.
- Migratory birds at Wapato Lake and Hart Mountain national wildlife refuges, Oregon.
- Bears at the Little White Salmon and Spring Creek National Fish Hatcheries, Washington.
- and other wildlife in lands throughout all 50 states
At least 12 different wildlife refuges will also be opened up to sport fishing. US citizens have 60 days after the recording of the proposal to offer comments.
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Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.