The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) is suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to block the expansion of hunting and fishing on national wildlife refuges. The lawsuit was filed on November 29 in a federal district court in Montana. It specifically challenges the Trump administration’s decision to open 2.3 million acres of land for hunting and fishing at more than 100 national wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries.

“We’re going to court to ensure that our nation’s wildlife refuges actually provide refuge to endangered wildlife,” says Camila Cossío, a staff attorney at the CBD, in a press release. “The Fish and Wildlife Service is shrugging off the many risks that sport hunting and fishing pose to endangered animals, particularly from lead ammunition and tackle.”

The CBD suit cites the threat of lead poisoning in jaguars, ocelots, and whooping cranes. Specifically, the organization believes that lead could harmfully impact whooping cranes at the Kirwin, Patoka, and Lacreek National Wildlife Refuges, as well as jaguars at the Leslie Canyon National Wildlife Refuge, and ocelots and jaguarundi at the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, as well as Audubon’s crested caracara at the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge. The lawsuit also claims that the USFWS is ignoring the risk of hunters killing grizzly bears in Montana’s Swan River National Wildlife Refuge out of self-defense or by mistakenly identifying them for black bears.

The Lawsuit Ignores the Long-standing Contributions of Hunters and Anglers to Conservation

Though framed in environmental arguments, the lawsuit seems to take issue with hunting and fishing altogether, despite the fact that sportsmen helped pioneer the national wildlife refuge system in the first place and contribute millions of dollars towards their preservation each year through the federal Duck Stamp program, not to mention by volunteering and donating to conservation organizations.

“The first-ever national wildlife refuge was established by a hunter. That was Theodore Roosevelt, and the refuge was Pelican Island in Florida,” Land Tawney, President and CEO of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, tells F&S. “Since then, hunters have been at the core of establishing national wildlife refuges all across this great country. The decisions to expand hunting and fishing on national wildlife refuges are being questioned by those that quite honestly would like to see hunting done away with.”

Increasing hunting and fishing opportunities at national wildlife refuges has drawn bipartisan support in recent years. In addition to the Trump administration, the Obama and Biden administrations have also increased access for sportsmen on national wildlife refuges, with the Biden administration increasing hunting and fishing opportunities on 2.1 million acres of public land, including 88 National Wildlife Refuges and one National Fish Hatchery, just this fall. It’s unclear why the CBD is only targeting the expansion by the Trump administration.

Nontoxic ammunition is already required on national wildlife refuges for waterfowl and upland bird hunting, and lead rifle bullets are specifically disallowed on national wildlife refuges where they are considered a danger to large carrion-eating wildlife. Given the historical positive impact hunters have had on conservation, excluding them from refuges would seem as or more likely to erode protections for landscapes and wildlife populations. Whether through the millions in fees and taxes paid on firearms, ammunition, and fishing equipment, or the century-long legacy of hunters advocating for public lands and wildlife management funding, the current strength of the American national wildlife refuge system is tied directly to the support of the hunting community.