WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for failing to protect endangered wildlife harmed by expanded hunting and fishing on national wildlife refuges across the country.
Today’s lawsuit challenges the Trump administration’s decision last year to expand hunting and fishing on 2.3 million acres, across 147 wildlife refuges and national fish hatcheries.
The suit explains that rare animals — including grizzly bears, jaguars, ocelots and whooping cranes — are harmed by use of toxic lead ammunition and tackle, increased traffic and noise and other risks associated with the massive expansion of sport hunting and fishing.
“We’re going to court to ensure that our nation’s wildlife refuges actually provide refuge to endangered wildlife,” said Camila Cossío, a staff attorney at the Center. “The Fish and Wildlife Service is shrugging off the many risks that sport hunting and fishing pose to endangered animals, particularly from lead ammunition and tackle.”
In 2016 the Service issued an order to phase out the use of lead on all national wildlife refuges across the country by 2023, but the order was rescinded by the Trump administration. The severe toxicity of lead to humans and wildlife has been known for centuries.
Though whooping cranes rely on the Kirwin National Wildlife Refuge in Kansas, Patoka National Wildlife Refuge in Indiana and Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge in South Dakota, the Service has expanded use of lead ammunition or lead tackle in each refuge while failing to consider the risk of lead toxicity to the rare birds. Lead ammunition and tackle can poison endangered animals like whooping cranes that ingest lead when feeding in fields and waterways.
Imperiled scavengers may be exposed to lead by scavenging on carcasses contaminated with lead shot or fragments of lead bullets. Today’s lawsuit challenges the Service’s failure to consider the risk of lead poisoning to jaguars at the Leslie Canyon National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona, ocelots and jaguarundi at the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in Texas and Audubon’s crested caracara at the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.
In addition to lead risks, the lawsuit explains that the Service ignored many other dangers facing endangered wildlife that live in areas open to hunting. Grizzly bears, for example, now face an increased risk of mistaken identity or self-defense shootings by hunters targeting black bears in grizzly territory in Montana’s Swan River National Wildlife Refuge.
“Opening national refuges to increased hunting means that rare and beautiful animals like grizzly bears, ocelots and whooping cranes now face increased risk of death, ingestion of toxic lead shot and other harms,” said Cossío. “With wildlife already confronted by so many threats to their survival, they rely on refuges to be safe havens. We’re hopeful the court will set things right.”
Today’s lawsuit brings claims under the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. It was filed in federal district court in Montana.