Hunting for refuge
When President Theodore Roosevelt established the first National Wildlife Refuge in March 1903, the recreational killing of wildlife was prohibited. The original intent of the refuge system was clear: to protect animals from exploitation and deliberate harm. Most Americans still view refuges as places where wildlife is protected from human interference. That is, in fact, the common definition of the word “refuge.”
Even though refuges were designed as sanctuaries for wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will open approximately 52 percent of the Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge to hunting. For the first time, hunters will be allowed to hunt doves, ducks, pheasants, turkeys, quail and other birds, as well as deer, on the Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge.
The vast majority of people who visit refuges do so to observe wildlife and enjoy nature. According to a Fish and Wildlife Service survey of 30 million people who visited refuges, 21 million visited for wildlife observation and “just to experience nature,” while only 1.4 million visited to hunt or trap. Furthermore, according to the agency’s 2001 “National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation,” less than 1 percent of California residents hunt.
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s Environmental Assessment of the refuge indicates that there has been no demonstrated “need” to control populations of the species on the refuge. It is clear that this change simply provides additional recreational opportunities to the small minority of the population that enjoys “sport” hunting.
Numerous polls show enormous public support for conservation, and most Americans do not require the blood of animals in return for their contribution to conservation. Moreover, hunters already have access to millions of acres of public and private lands outside the refuge system for their activities. Hikers, bird watchers, campers and photographers are entitled to enjoy the small percentage of public lands designated as wildlife refuges free from the dangers of stray bullets or from witnessing the maiming and killing of wildlife.
The Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge’s limited resources would be better spent protecting habitat and endangered species than managing hunting programs—particularly at a time when state and national trends demonstrate that hunting is on the decline and the vast majority of citizens prefer to watch wild animals, not kill them.