Continuing the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to increase recreational access on public lands, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Oct. 27 that 48 new distinct hunting opportunities on approximately 3,000 acres within the National Wildlife Refuge System. The announcement follows public comment and local engagement on the phase-out of lead ammunition and tackle. This work is central to implementing the America the Beautiful initiative, the president’s all of government strategy to conserve, restore and protect 30% of our lands and waters by 2030.
Three national wildlife refuges, managed by the Service, are expanding opportunities for hunting. These refuges are Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama, Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge in Florida and Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota.
“Offering hunting and fishing on national wildlife refuges is a priority in our efforts to offer wildlife-related recreation for all Americans on Service lands,” said Service Director Martha Williams. “Today, nearly 80% of Service stations offer hunting and fishing opportunities. Expanding access where it is compatible with each station’s wildlife conservation mission is foundational to the Service’s commitment to responsibly manage these areas for the benefit of future generations.”
The final rule publishing in the Federal Register on October 30, 2023, includes phase-outs of lead ammunition. The best available science analyzed as part of this rulemaking demonstrates lead ammunition and tackle have negative impacts on human health and wildlife, and those impacts are more acute for some species. The public had the opportunity to provide comments on these lead phase-out regulations during two 60-day comment periods, as these regulations were presented in 2022 as planned and in the 2023 proposed rule. All comments were considered in this final rule. The Service is engaged in a deliberate, open and transparent process of evaluating the future of lead use on Service lands and waters, working with our state partners and seeking input from other stakeholders and the public. In addition to the phase-outs at eight national wildlife refuges, none of the expanded hunting and fishing opportunities announced today would increase the use of lead ammunition or tackle on refuges.
Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge is expanding existing hunting to newly acquired acres under a non-lead ammunition requirement that will be effective immediately in fall 2023, as coordinated with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. As previewed in the 2022-2023 final rule, Blackwater, Chincoteague, Eastern Neck, Erie, Great Thicket, Patuxent Research Refuge, Rachel Carson and Wallops Island National Wildlife Refuges are phasing out lead ammunition by fall 2026. All except Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge will phase out lead tackle. No other changes to lead ammunition or tackle are taking effect on any other national wildlife refuges in this rulemaking.
Hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities contributed more than $394 billion in economic activity in communities across the United States in 2022, according to the Service’s National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation. Nearly 40 million Americans ages 16 and older went fishing in 2022 while 14.4 million hunted, and 148 million watched wildlife.
The Refuge System is an unparalleled network of 570 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts. There is awithin an hour’s drive of most major metropolitan areas. More than 67 million Americans visit refuges every year. National wildlife refuges provide vital habitat for thousands of species and access to world-class recreation, from fishing, hunting and boating to nature watching, photography and environmental education.
Under the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, the Service permits hunting and fishing along with four other types of wildlife-dependent recreation, including wildlife photography, environmental education, wildlife observation and interpretation when they are compatible with an individual refuge’s purpose and mission. Hunting, within specified limits, is currently permitted on 400 wildlife refuges and 36 wetland management districts. Fishing is currently permitted on 343 wildlife refuges and 35 wetland management districts.
The Service manages hunting and fishing programs to ensure sustainable wildlife populations while also offering other wildlife-dependent recreation on public lands.