The Trump administration has announced huge plans to open up more wildlife refuges to hunting, a move they say will be a “way to celebrate” once the Covid-19 lockdown is over later in the year.
While praised by pro-hunting lobbying groups, some conservation and science advocacy groups have criticized the decision as “tone-deaf” given the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak facing the US.
David L Bernhardt, the US Secretary of the Interior, announced plans on April 8 to expand over 2.3 million acres of public land to “new and expanded hunting and fishing opportunities” at 97 national wildlife refuges and nine national fish hatcheries, described as the "single largest expansion of hunting and fishing land" in US history.
The proposal would open up the hunting of black bears, bobcats, badgers, elk, foxes, ringtail cats, and mountain lions at a number of different wildlife refuges. It would also allow alligator hunting in wildlife refuges in Texas, Georgia, and South Carolina, along with further big game hunting at multiple locations.
“Once the Trump administration’s effort to eliminate the threat of Covid-19 has been successful, there will be no better way to celebrate than to get out and enjoy increased access for hunting and fishing on our public lands,” Aurelia Skip, director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a statement from the government.
Safari Club International, a pro-hunting group with links to the Trump administration and the Trump family, praised the move in the government press release. However, not everyone was overjoyed by the news. Western Values Project, an advocacy organization for protecting public lands, has criticized the announcement, arguing that many of the Trump administration’s previous decisions to deregulate the environment have damaged public lands.
“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," Jayson O’Neill, director of Western Values Project, told the Associated Press.
Equally, others have questioned the administration's allusion that this decision will benefit the health of wildlife and public lands.
“Instead, the draft of the proposed rule will rely on hunters to report their harvest, a task that more than 60 percent of hunters fail to do in some states,” Jacob Carter, a research scientist for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), wrote in a UCS blog post.
“With no monitoring system in place and limited data collection, it will be challenging to fully understand the effects of an unprecedented change on game and other wildlife in these refuges. Future decisions regarding conservation efforts on wildlife refuges will be based on inaccurate and incomplete data,” Carter added. “This will likely place the health of protected wildlife at risk.”