The proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to expand hunting and fishing on wildlife refuges and hatcheries includes our beloved Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.
This shortsighted political stunt was launched by former Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke with the National Rifle Association, hand-picked sportsmen (aka hunters and trappers), shooters and like-minded politicians to counter reports that hunter numbers had dropped by 2.2 million between 2011 and 2016. It included Zinke’s Secretarial Order 3356 to expand hunting and fishing on Department of Interior lands.
The bosque was created in 1939 to provide “inviolate sanctuary for migrating waterfowl.” It is the goose that lays the golden eggs, a conservation rock star that attracts some 200,000 nature lovers and ecotourists annually to enjoy the inspirations of hundreds of thousands of migratory birds and other wildlife. The healthy waterfowl populations also create countless hunting opportunities far beyond refuge boundaries.
This proposal is a request for comments, not votes. Alternative B “to increase hunting” and “align refuge rules and regulations with New Mexico Game and Fish” is expected to be in place for this fall’s hunting season. Our first chance to vote will be in November.
Alternative B will allow hunting on a total of 48,144 acres and open hunting, now prohibited, for ducks, dark geese and several other species on 28,022 acres, including 3,492 acres now closed to hunting in the Rio Grande corridor. These increases could have huge impacts on ducks and other wildlife and magnify conflicts between hunters and other visitors.
In addition, Game and Fish’s sportsmen-friendly regulations include no hunting ethics; allow AR-15s for hunting; no restrictions on high-capacity magazines, silencers or mile-or-more computerized scopes; year-round trapping and hunting with no limits for nongame wildlife like bunnies; and more.
Speculation that hunter interest has been low and the proposed changes probably won’t make much difference — 375 predicted hunt visits compared to 226 now — was offered to justify the changes. The supporters of increased refuge hunting are ignoring the far-reaching collateral damage.
Laddie Mills is a lifelong outdoorsman, hunter, fisherman and native New Mexican. For details about the proposal, see regulations.gov/document?D=FWS-HQ-NWRS-2020-0013-1622.