The Department of the Interior under Donald Trump is working to open 138 national wildlife refuges and 9 national fish hatcheries to hunters and fishermen in the largest single access expansion in the department’s history. Following changes to hunting rules in Alaska, the administration is also facing lawsuits from environmental groups.
“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,” said Secretary Bernhardt in a statement.
“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,” Bernhardt continued. “These refuges and hatcheries provide incredible opportunities for sportsmen and women and their families across the country to pass on a fishing and hunting heritage to future generations and connect with wildlife.”
Along with the initial proposal, the Department of the Interior is issuing new guidelines to the refuges and fisheries in all 50 states to produce new rules tailored to match existing hunting and fishing regulations from each state.
“Well-managed hunting and fishing are the backbone of conservation in this country, but inconsistent or overly complex regulations can act as a disincentive,” said department director Margaret Everson. “By aligning our refuge regulations with our state partners, we are reducing confusion and the regulatory burden on the American public, helping ensure the tradition and benefits of hunting and fishing can continue.”
Expanded fishing and hunting lands include the Leadville National Fish Hatchery in Colorado, the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Florida and the Great River National Wildlife Refuge in Illinois and Missouri.
Other hatcheries and refuges include the Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery in Texas, the Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery in Washington, the Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin and the Iron River National Fish Hatchery and Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in Wyoming.
“The announcement today by Secretary Bernhardt is incredibly welcome news and builds off great progress in increasing access to refuge lands the last two years,” said Delta Waterfowl’s John Devney. “Duck hunters have been leaders in investing in the refuge system and this action will provide them with new access and opportunities.”
“The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation applauds Secretary Bernhardt for his efforts to expand hunting and fishing opportunities within the National Wildlife Refuge System,” said the CSF President Jeff Crane.
Not everyone has the same positive outlook. Environmentalist groups worry that anglers and hunters will disproportionately take trophy game and predators.
“Mountain lions, bears and other top predators are so important to ecosystems,” said Collette Adkins, from theCenter for Biological Diversity, reports the Hill. “These beautiful and important animals will be in the crosshairs in many American national refuges.”
Changes to hunting rules in Alaska face specific criticism. Under the new rules, hunters can take black bear, including cubs, at den sites, brown bear over bait and wolves and coyotes during denning seasons.
“The century-old governing mission of the National Park Service includes protecting America’s ecosystems and wildlife, not turning lands into massive game farms,” said Jim Adams, Alaska regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association.
“Unfortunately under the Trump administration, the Park Service is ignoring that mission in rolling back previous prohibitions and moving to allow baiting grizzly bears and trapping wolves in their dens on Alaska’s national parklands,” he said.
The National Parks Conservation Association is one of 13 groups filing suit in response to the rules changes.