USFWS plans to expand hunting and fishing in 19 refuges

By Cassie Ferri

Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus) at Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Shelley C. Koerner/USFWS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced proposed plans to expand hunting and fishing opportunities in 19 national wildlife refuges across 54,000 acres, while also proposing measures to limit the exposure of wildlife to lead from ammunition and fishing tackle.

The National Wildlife Refuge System is the nation’s only set of federal lands dedicated to the conservation and management of America’s native wildlife. The Refuge System prioritizes several recreational activities compatible with their wildlife conservation mission, including hunting, fishing, wildlife photography, wildlife observation, environmental education and interpretation.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal would expand public access to hunting in 436 refuges and fishing in 378. New opportunities include opening upland game and big game hunting at San Diego National Wildlife Refuge in California and opening the Great Thicket National Wildlife Refuge in Maine and New York to migratory game bird, upland game and big game hunting.

These changes are part of a continuing trend in recent years of expanding such opportunities in National Wildlife Refuge units. Last year, the USFWS increased hunting and fishing opportunities at 90 refuges.

However, this year’s proposal comes as the USFWS is contemplating next steps for the regulation of lead ammunition and fishing tackle on USFWS lands. The Center for Biological Diversity and partners recently developed a legal petition, both pressuring the USFWS to consider lead’s risk to wildlife on Refuge System lands.

Through its proposed rulemaking, the USFWS indicated that they are open to additional regulatory action on lead and are not proposing any new hunting opportunities that will result in additional lead on the landscape. Only nontoxic ammunition and fishing tackle will be permitted in the proposed new hunting and fishing areas.

In a press release, the USFWS explained that its concern was drawn from the best available information, analyzed as part of this proposed rulemaking.

As discussions on the use of lead in hunting and fishing opportunities continue, The Wildlife Society recently updated its position statement on lead in hunting ammunition and fishing tackle.

The USFWS intends to finalize the proposed changes in time for the upcoming 2022-2023 hunting seasons and will accept public comments on the proposal until August 8, 2022. A complete list of changes by refuge is available here.

Read TWS’ Position Statement on hunting.

Read TWS’ Position Statement on lead in hunting ammunition and fishing tackle.