In April, a federal district court in Montana denied SCI’s request to join a lawsuit to defend the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2020 rule that opened over 2.3 million acres of National Wildlife Refuges to new and expanded hunting and sport fishing opportunities. SCI and its partners, the National Rifle Association, Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation, and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, immediately appealed that erroneous decision. Today, the pro-hunting organizations filed their opening brief challenging the district court’s order and explaining in detail their interest in the case.
In the district court case, the plaintiff challenged the 2020 rule on the ground that additional use of lead ammunition and tackle through expanded hunting and fishing increases the risk of lead poisoning to at-risk species. The plaintiff also argues that more hunters on the landscape threatens to injure or disturb Endangered Species Act-listed wildlife like grizzly bears and jaguars. The plaintiff names eight specific refuges in its complaint, but broadly requests that the court vacate or enjoin the rule, thus shutting down new bear hunting in Montana, bird hunting in South Dakota, and alligator hunting in Florida (among other opportunities).
SCI and its partners moved to intervene in the lawsuit, to defend the rule and rebut the plaintiff’s unsupported claims about the risk of expanded hunting and fishing on these refuges. But the district court denied that motion. Surprisingly, the court found these pro-hunting organizations lacked a legally recognized interest in defending the expanded hunting access.
The appellate brief challenges this finding. It points to 15 declarations from members of these organizations detailing how they will take advantage of the new hunting opportunities, and how their interests will be harmed if the plaintiff succeeds in setting aside the rule. The brief further explains that the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act mandates that the Fish and Wildlife Service prioritize hunting and fishing on refuges. The 2020 rule expanding hunting and fishing on almost 100 refuges complies with this law, and acknowledges the crucial role that hunting and fishing have played in creating and funding the National Wildlife Refuge System.
In addition, the pro-hunting organizations defend the continued use of lead ammunition and tackle on refuges, where currently permitted and consistent with State laws. Their involvement in this case has become even more important, as the Fish and Wildlife Service recently made a tentative finding that lead may harm sensitive wildlife, and pledged to restrict or phase out the use of lead ammunition or tackle on 19 National Wildlife Refuges. SCI challenges the limited science on which the Service based this finding, and continues to support the use of lead ammunition and tackle given no viable alternatives exist for most hunting. Restricting the use of lead ammunition will block many people from hunting, particularly new hunters and hunters who cannot afford or do not have access to non-lead ammunition.
SCI is committed to a “No-Net-Loss” policy, which ensures that the amount of federal land for hunting and fishing stays constant or increases but is not diminished by any action, federal or otherwise. SCI will continue to fight for responsible and sustainable wildlife management and will always be First for Hunters.