Make National Wildlife Refuges Safe Havens Again
High Time to Prohibit “Consumptive Use” In National Wildlife Refuges
Most Americans think of wildlife refuges as safe havens, where wild animals find true shelter and protection from harmful human activities. The idea of refuges as areas specifically set aside to protect wild birds and other species from ubiquitous exploitation was what guided President Theodore Roosevelt when he established the first national wildlife refuge on Pelican Island off the coast of Florida in 1903, where hunting was prohibited. This mindset was shared by Aldo Leopold, the father of ecology, who defined a “game refuge” in 1933 as “an area closed to hunting in order that its excess population may flow out and restock surrounding areas. A refuge is at all times a sanctuary, and the two terms are synonymous.”
Though these historic ideas of wildlife refuges were never based on altruism (selflessness), much has changed since the creation of the first national wildlife refuge. In the 1950s and 1960s, as hunters and trappers gained greater political power, consumptive wildlife uses were expanded on refuges through legislative efforts. Amendments to the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act of 1934 (the Duck Stamp Act) authorized “consumptive use” activities on many refuges, followed by the 1997 National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act, which designated hunting and fishing as “priority uses” and stipulated they “receive enhanced consideration” by refuge managers.
Today, more than 60% of all national wildlife refuges allow hunting, fishing and trapping.
According to their perverse line of thinking, hunters, anglers and trappers claim to be the main financiers of conservation and thus have the right to kill wild animals on public lands, including refuges. Correspondingly, today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the agency tasked with the administration of the NWRS, not only allows but promotes hunting, fishing and trapping as “compatible” recreational uses of these refuges. Particularly in so-called “waterfowl production areas,” which are part of the NWRS, “avian predators”, including coyotes, bobcats, skunks and raccoons, are relentlessly killed so that sufficient birds are produced as living targets for hunters to shoot.
The USFWS views trapping as “a legitimate recreational and economic activity when there are harvestable surpluses of furbearing mammals.” Read more here.
The agency commonly claims that trapping is necessary to protect migratory birds and threatened and endangered species. In reality, these same migratory birds, allegedly in need of protection from natural carnivores, are then shot by hunters. Furthermore, because traps and snares are baited, drawing any animal in search of food into them, traps are inherently indiscriminate. They frequently injure or even kill the exact species—mainly raptors such as bald and golden eagles but also other species in peril— that the FWS claims trappers protect. During the 2011-12 trapping season in Montana, at least eight eagles were caught in traps and snares. Some of them died, as did “Elaine,” a protected bird who was carrying a tiny GPS unit under her wing, through which researchers had tracked her incredible journeys to places thousands of miles away. Elaine died in a snare allegedly set to kill coyotes.
Though the number of animals killed by recreational/commercial trappers in wildlife refuges is unknown, their death toll likely exceeds tens of thousands of “avian predators” such as bobcats, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, skunks and badgers. Lynx, wolves, and semi-aquatic animals including beavers, mink, otters and other so-called non-target animals also fall victim to these brutal devices. These animals suffer and die in brutal leghold traps, snares, kill-traps such as Conibear traps and other body-gripping devices, and they die for trappers’ profit and for the fashion industry.
The FWS does not regulate trapping in wildlife refuges, but instead defers to the states, which more often than not have no regulations at all. For example, in Montana, with the exception of killing wolves in traps, there is no mandatory trap check for trappers. In other words, a trapper buying a trapping license for $29 can then kill an unlimited number of animals without ever having to check his traps. As a result, animals may suffer for an unlimited period of time, lingering in painful traps or snares, before the trapper returns (if he returns), to either drown, strangulate, stomp, bludgeon or shoot them to death. The same barbaric treatment of wildlife is allowed in Montana’s wildlife refuges.
High Time to Bring Peace To Wildlife Refuges
According to the true meaning of refuges as “sanctuaries,” wild birds and members of other species in these areas should be protected from the fear, uncertainties, danger, and terror caused by hunters, anglers and trappers in their relentless pursuit, spurred by a psychological disorder, to kill beautiful, innocent and unsuspecting wild animals.
Trappers already have access to millions of acres of public lands, and at a minimum they should not be allowed to set foot into refuges to pursue their despicable pastime that causes so much pain, suffering and death to wild animals.
A 2011 USFWS survey has shown that wildlife watchers have already outnumbered and outspent all recreational wildlife killers combined. Also, more than 90% of the land set aside to create wildlife refuges has been acquired from the public domain, land that is funded by the tax-paying public, who overwhelmingly does not hunt, fish or trap.
Another recent 2013 FWS survey showed that the National Wildlife Refuge System attracts more than 45 million visitors annually, including 25 million people per year to observe and photograph wildlife, while approximately 9 million hunt and fish, and more than 10 million participate in educational and interpretation programs. Most people visit wildlife refuges for the experience of feeling connected to Nature.
Managers of national wildlife refuges should assign the highest priority to the wellbeing and welfare of resident animals. They should be managed though nonviolent and humane methods, and only harmless human activities, including wildlife watching should be allowed. Wildlife refuges, in the true spirit of the term, should be just that – an oasis of land and water where animals find real peace.
The only way wild animals will find that much-needed reprieve is to post a sign at the door of refuges— “Consumptive Users Not Allowed.” IDA is working on a plan to make this vision a reality. Stay tuned for more details.