Yesterday, Senator's Feinstein (D-CA) and Padilla (D-CA) introduced the Western Riverside National Wildlife Refuge Act, companion legislation to Rep. Calvert (R-CA) & Takano's (D-CA) H.R. 972 The Wildlife Refuge Conservation & Recreation for the Community Act, a bipartisan bill which passed the house last year.
As a stakeholder group, BHA has voiced support for H.R. 972 citing the benefits to wildlife and habitat connectivity as well as the potential to access approximately 150,000 acres of formerly private land with the possibility of hunting being allowed. For more information on BHA's comments on the proposed Western Riverside National Wildlife Refuge, check out our blog post from last year.
BHA remains committed to advancing legislation that will balance urban development with the conservation of critical landscapes, however we are also working to ensure the voice of the hunter and angler is not lost throughout this process and we have been meeting with coalition partners as well as congressional offices to make sure your voice is heard.
We have expressed concerns about the new map that was introduced with the Senate bill, which expands the acquisition boundary from the previous ~150,000 acres of private land to ~350,000 acres of both private and public land that includes several existing hunting areas popular to sportsmen and women in Southern California. The new boundary incorporates ~20,000 acres of the San Jacinto Wildlife Area, one of Southern California's most popular duck hunting destinations, in addition to ~30,000 acres of BLM lands and wilderness where hunting is currently allowed. The acquisition boundary outlines the maximum boundaries of which the US Fish and Wildlife Service can acquire lands to be incorporated into the refuge. However, this does not necessarily mean those lands will be incorporated into the refuge, or that refuge lands will have hunting access removed. We have voiced our concern and will continue to work with coalition partners, the US Fish and Wildlife service and congressional representatives to ensure that any potential refuge designation does not unwittingly result in a loss of public hunting or fishing access.
BHA has long stood behind and championed the National Wildlife Refuge System, and we continue to work on National Wildlife Refuge expansions across the nation where it is strategically beneficial for wildlife habitat and access. Since the inception of the first wildlife refuge in Florida’s central Atlantic coast in 1903, the system has been instrumental in conserving lands for fish and wildlife while providing public access for hunters and anglers at the same time. Nearly a hundred years after the first refuge was created, the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act established guiding principles for the areas and identified six refuge-compatible recreational uses: hunting, fishing, wildlife watching, photography, environmental education and interpretation. This was an attempt to reform the system and support fish and wildlife that were being adversely impacted by mining, off-road vehicles, airboating, waterskiing and military aviation exercises. It also codified the importance of hunting and fishing on wildlife refuges and in the congressional record it was reaffirmed that:
“It is the policy of the United States that where a proposed wildlife-dependent use is determined to be compatible on an individual refuge, the activity should be facilitated," U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services
As of 2021, 434 National Wildlife Refuge system units are open to public hunting and 378 are open to fishing. In 2022, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced plans to expand hunting and fishing opportunities in 19 national wildlife refuges. BHA, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the National Wildlife Federation and Trout Unlimited have joined forces on an initiative to support the National Wildlife Refuge System and identify opportunities to expand hunting and fishing access. We detailed initial findings in the following report and are working across the west to expand refuges and increase hunting and angling opportunities. In the report we identified the following tenets to guide refuge management and expansions:
- Proposals for new or expanded national wildlife refuges should be developed through a public process–one that includes hunters and anglers, state fish and wildlife agencies, agricultural producers, as well as appropriate State, Tribal, and local governments, and the general public.
- For refuges created out of public lands administered by a separate land management agency, state fish and wildlife agencies should retain authority over the management of fish and wildlife populations to the maximum extent allowed by law.
- The input of hunters and anglers should inform all applicable management plans for national wildlife refuges.
- Protection of important fish and wildlife habitat should be the highest priority of any refuge.
- Proposals for new or expanded national wildlife refuges will require support from the public, including hunters and anglers.
- Hunting and fishing opportunities should be prioritized as “wildlife-dependent recreational uses” to the maximum extent, and public access should be enhanced or expanded where compatible with the objectives of any new or existing refuge to ensure no net loss of hunting and fishing opportunities across the refuge system.
- Reasonable public access should be established or retained to enable continued hunting, fishing, and other recreational opportunities, as compatible with refuge objectives.
- Funding should be dedicated to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to secure the resources, staffing, and expertise required to effectively manage the refuge system, including any new or expanded refuge units.
- New or expanded refuge units should bolster ecosystem health by conserving year-round, seasonal, and migratory habitats for both game and nongame species, including “species of greatest conservation need” that have been identified by state fish and wildlife agencies.
- Consistent with National Wildlife Refuge System policies, cooperative agriculture such as haying and grazing on refuge lands should continue to the extent that it meets specific wildlife or habitat management goals and objectives.
- New or expanded refuges should prioritize opportunities to add unique fish, wildlife, or ecological values and hunting and angling opportunities that are underrepresented in the refuge system.
- To the maximum extent practicable and consistent with refuge purposes, regulations governing hunting and fishing on new or expanded refuges should remain consistent with state regulations and limit additional restrictions on hunting and fishing opportunities.
Hunting is allowed on approximately 75% of refuges across the Nation, however only about 25% in California allow for hunting access. While we recognize that hunting will not necessarily be a compatible use on every wildlife refuge, we will continue to engage with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, congressional leaders and stakeholders to ensure that hunters and anglers continue to have a seat at the table. BHA remains committed to advocating for both landscape level habitat conservation and public access for ALL. To learn more about our engagement on this issue or to connect with the California chapter please send us an email.
Here is the legislative text for the Western Riverside National Wildlife Refuge Act: