President Trump’s administration said Tuesday that it is expanding hunting and fishing in 77 national wildlife refuges, in a move that critics say could harm wildlife.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said hunters and anglers can shoot and cast their rods on 2,200 square miles of federally protected land in 37 states. Much of it is considered critical habitat for birds to refuel during their migrations. The agency, which also now permits fishing at 15 national hatcheries, said some 5,000 regulations have been eliminated or simplified to match state rules.
“This is the largest single effort to expand hunting and fishing access in recent history,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said last month.
It’s the latest effort by the Trump administration to open public lands to recreation and industry, which critics say comes at the expense of the environment and wildlife. Conservationists said the changes went into effect without proper environmental review.
The administration also has scaled back two national monuments in Utah. New plans for the monuments allow more grazing and recreation.
One of the big concerns is that state and federal officials don’t appear to have a monitoring system to see what effect the changes might have, not only on game species but those that aren’t hunted, said Jeff Ruch of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
Hunting groups generally supported the changes.
Adam Putnam, head of Ducks Unlimited, a group that supports public access for hunting, fishing and recreation, said the changes won’t hurt wildlife. He said simplifying regulations will get more people outdoors.
“It’s going to encourage new hunters and anglers to enter the sport and fall in love with the outdoors and become lifelong conservationists,” he said.
Minidoka National Wildlife Refuge in Idaho faces two significant changes: opening a season for hunting elk with bows and arrows and extending boating season by a month.
Idaho Department of Fish and Game officials, like several other state wildlife agencies, said the federal changes fell short of what they wanted.
President Theodore Roosevelt founded the National Wildlife Refuge System in 1903, signing an executive order to establish the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida to protect several types of birds from ornamental plume hunters. There are now more than 550 national wildlife refuges.