Hunting and fishing would expand in the upcoming season on federally-owned land in 37 states under a new Interior Department proposal released Wednesday.
The proposal would expand the acreage, species or season dates at 15 fish hatcheries and 74 national wildlife refuges run by the department. In some cases, the proposal would bring federal regulations closer in line with state regulations. Hunting is currently allowed on 377 national wildlife refuges.
The Trump administration proposed a similar expansion of hunting access last year, and has generally sought to expand access and opportunities for hunting.
Some of the administration’s hunting-related moves have been controversial, including the founding of a pro-trophy hunting advisory panel and a proposal to overturn bear bait rules and the installation of a hunting video game in the cafeteria at department headquarters.
The 2019-20 proposal would allow hunters to take wild turkey and feral hog on more than 16,000 acres in Oklahoma’s Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge, where other types of hunting are currently allowed. At the Leadville National Fish Hatchery southwest of Denver, hunting of duck, grouse, elk and mule deer would be allowed for the first time.
“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,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in a statement.
The move was applauded by groups that support hunting, including the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and Delta Waterfowl, which said it provided the Fish and Wildlife Service with a list of refuges where it believed hunting could be opened or expanded.
“Duck hunters have been leaders in investing in the National Wildlife Refuge System, so the expanded hunting access is well-deserved,” John Devney of Delta Waterfowl said in a statement.
When the Fish and Wildlife Service took comments on last year’s proposal, some argued against allowing hunting on these federal lands.
“We looked up the word refuge: a condition of being safe or sheltered from pursuit, danger, or trouble,” wrote one commenter, who identified only as “E Mechler.” “Now if you and your family need a refuge we assume you would not want to be the target of gunfire. The same holds for our fellow animals.”
In response to comments like these, FWS said federal law allows hunting on a refuge “after rigorous examination of the available information” by the refuge manager, including the development of a conservation plan.
This year’s proposal will be available for a 45-day comment period, the Interior Department said.
Bernhardt’s predecessor, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, ordered the department in 2017 to review ways to expand hunting and fishing access to public lands. His spokeswoman said the Obama administration “did not appreciate access to hunting and target shooting like this administration does” and developed overly restrictive policies.