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For Immediate Release: 10/13/04

The National Wildlife Refuge System: A Betrayal of Trust

Probe Finds More Promote Hunting & Trapping than Wildlife Viewing

Sacramento, CA — October 10-16 has been officially designated as National Wildlife Refuge Week, but a review of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) data by the Animal Protection Institute (API) has found little reason to celebrate. A review of agency information has revealed that a majority of national wildlife refuges allow “sport” hunting and trapping and that more refuges offer programs for killing animals than for watching them! In September, President George W. Bush opened an additional 243,500 acres of public lands on 17 refuges to recreational killing of wildlife. In addition, on September 28 the FWS signed a four-year agreement with the Archery Trade Association, the Bowhunting Preservation Alliance, and Arrowsport to increase archery and bowhunting opportunities on National Wildlife Refuges.

“It is clear that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has lost sight of the meaning of ‘refuge’ and the original purpose of the National Wildlife Refuge System,” says Camilla Fox, Director of Wildlife Programs for the Animal Protection Institute. A national poll found that 79% of Americans oppose trapping on National Wildlife Refuges and 88% believe that wildlife and habitat preservation should be the refuge system’s highest priority.

When President Theodore Roosevelt established the first national wildlife refuge on March 14, 1903, hunting and trapping were prohibited. Under pressure from special interests, however, the U.S. Congress and the Fish and Wildlife Service have steadily opened refuges to hunting and trapping. In 1997, Congress declared that “wildlife comes first in the National Wildlife Refuge System” and that “wildlife conservation is the principal mission of the Refuge system,” while still allowing sport hunting and fur trapping to continue on these public lands.

“That wildlife can be trapped and killed in cruel leghold traps and snares for their fur on National Wildlife Refuges is a contradiction in terms and ethics,” Fox says. “Body-crushing traps pose a serious hazard to the very animals that refuges are intended to protect, including threatened and endangered species, raptors, and migratory birds. Refuges should be maintained as true sanctuaries, not as playgrounds for trappers and other consumptive wildlife users who already have millions of acres of lands outside the refuges to trap and kill animals.”

The Animal Protection Institute is a national non-profit animal advocacy organization with 80,000 members and supporters, working to end animal cruelty and exploitation through legislation, litigation, and public education. API also operates a 186-acre primate sanctuary near San Antonio, Texas that is home to more than 400 rescued and retired snow monkeys, baboons, and vervets. For more information about API, API’s Primate Sanctuary, and the organization’s mission, campaigns, and activities, please visit www.api4animals.org.


Important Facts about the National Wildlife Refuge System:

  • Of the 544 refuge units nationwide, which encompass 95 million acres, more than half allow hunting (311 units) and trapping (280 units). In contrast, fewer than half offer opportunities for wildlife viewing (240 units). Currently, more than 100 refuges have designated programs for killing animals, but not for watching them.
  • Of the more than 27 million people who visited refuges in 1995, 81.5% came to view and/or photograph wildlife, for environmental education, or for similar non-consumptive recreational pursuits. Only 4.5% visited a refuge to hunt or trap animals.
  • Wildlife viewing at refuges is big business. Bird watchers contribute an estimated $15 million annually to the local economy of towns surrounding two Texas National Wildlife Refuges alone.
  • For in-depth information about trapping on National Wildlife Refuges, see www.api4animals.org/facts.php?p=62&more=1.
  • For a debate over trapping on National Wildlife Refuges between API's Director of Wildlife Programs Camilla Fox and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Steve Williams in the pages of Wild Earth, visit www.BanCruelTraps.com.
  • For information on what kinds of activities are allowed on refuges search on refuges.fws.gov/databases/#units or www.recreation.gov/aSearch.cfm.

A 1999 Decision Research national poll* found that:

  • 78% of Americans think it is against the law to hunt and trap animals on National Wildlife Refuges.
  • 71% agree that as long as refuge officials can remove dangerous animals, there is no reason to allow any other killing of animals on refuge property.
  • 83% disagreed that the rights of hunters and trappers are more important than the need to protect wildlife on refuges.

*For more information about this poll, contact API.

Cross-section Sample of National Wildlife Refuge Activities

# of refuges 41
# with hunting 18
# of trapping programs 29
# with wildlife viewing opportunities 20

# of refuges 29
# with hunting 8
# of trapping programs 16
# with wildlife viewing opportunities 11

# of refuges 6
# with hunting 4
# of trapping programs 7
# with wildlife viewing opportunities 4

# of refuges 20
# with hunting 15
# of trapping programs 23
# with wildlife viewing opportunities 13

New Mexico:
# of refuges 7
# with hunting 2
# of trapping programs 4
# with wildlife viewing opportunities 4

North Dakota:
# of refuges 77
# with hunting 19
# of trapping programs 75
# with wildlife viewing opportunities 14

# of refuges 23
# with hunting 15
# of trapping programs 13
# with wildlife viewing opportunities 12

# of refuges 20
# with hunting 7
# of trapping programs 19
# with wildlife viewing opportunities 8

# of refuges 10
# with hunting 7
# of trapping programs 7
# with wildlife viewing opportunities 4

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