A lawsuit filed in federal court in Missoula on Monday challenges a Trump-era policy change that would allow more hunting and fishing in National Wildlife Refuges, saying that lead ammunition and tackle could further harm endangered species, and that relaxing the rules may lead to hunters accidentally taking endangered species, like grizzly bears.
The lawsuit covers a number of wildlife refuges, including the Swan River National Wildlife Refuge in Montana, as well as near refuges in Arizona, Florida, Texas and South Dakota.
“We’re going to court to ensure that our nation’s wildlife refuges actually provide refuge to endangered wildlife,” said Camila Cossio, a staff attorney at the center. “The Fish and Wildlife Service is shrugging off the main risks that sport hunting and fishing pose to endangered animals.”
The suit claims that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hasn’t fully considered the impacts of allowing lead-based ammunition and fishing tackle that has the potential to poison wildlife indiscriminately.
Furthermore, it said that federal agency also failed to consider the impacts of additional hunting in the refuges, meant to bolster and protect endangered species. Not only does the suit raise grizzly hunting issues in Montana, but also jaguars in Arizona, ocelots and jaguarundi in Texas and Florida, and waterfowl including Audubon’s crested caracara, wood stork and whooping crane.
“More than 500 species protected by the Endangered Species Act – nearly one-third of all U.S. listed species – are found on wildlife refuges,” the suit states. “The Hunting and Fishing rule opened or expanded more than 2.3 million acres of refuge lands to sport hunting or fishing.”
The lawsuit outlines two concerns for all the national wildlife refuges that are included in the court challenge, including the lead-based ammunition and tackle, and the risks of hunters accidentally mistaking one of the endangered species with a similar non-endangered species.
“The refuge system is essential to biodiversity,” the suit said. “Many refuges are the only places in the world for species on the edge of extinction.”
For example, the suit raises the concern that in the Swan River National Wildlife Refuge, hunters may accidentally kill a grizzly bear instead of a black bear. Meanwhile, hunters at Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge in South Dakota may accidentally kill whooping cranes while hunting sandhill cranes. Finally, the Trump-era reversal of lead-based fishing and hunting gear would reintroduce the powerful neurotoxin where birds and fish may accidentally eat and be poisoned by lead.
“Grizzlies use the Mission and Swan mountain ranges of Montana as habitat, and Swan River National Wildlife Refuge provides a corridor for grizzlies to access the two ranges,” the court filing said.
Lawyers for the Center for Biological Diversity said the federal government’s analysis before implementing the new hunting rules was flawed.
“The environmental analysis must disclose and analyze the direct, indirect and cumulative effects of the proposed action on the environment,” the suit said.
Lawyers said that the agency’s own characterization of lead exposure and poisoning runs contrary to the new hunting rules.
“The agency’s analysis of cumulative impacts of lead is limited to two paragraphs and contradict their own public media statements,” the suit said.