NRA, Others Continue Battle Over Dangerous National Wildlife Refuge Proposal

NRA, Others Continue Battle Over Dangerous National Wildlife Refuge Proposal

The battle continues over the implementation of the National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS) biological integrity, diversity and environmental health (BIDEH) proposal. In March, this NRA website reported about how the group American Wildlife Conservation Partners (AWCP), which includes the National Rifle Association, won a major victory by getting the comment period extended on the federal plan that would make “broad, sweeping changes” to how the hunter-backed National Wildlife Refuge System manages its lands and waters.

Now, AWCP has sent a letter to Martha Williams, head of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), urging the agency to completely rescind the proposal and initiate a more inclusive approach. At issue are the conservation organizations’ concerns that the intent of the BIDEH proposal is inconsistent with the intent and the plain language of the National Wildlife Improvement Act of 1997. In fact, BIDEH is only mentioned one time in the entire Improvement Act.

“After more deliberative review, subsequent briefings and Congressional testimony from FWS, we write today to request FWS terminate the BIDEH proposal, and then engage partners in a more transparent, inclusive, and thoughtful discussion about the needs, objectives and real solutions for the conservation challenges facing the NWRs,” stated the letter, signed by the NRA and 28 other conservation and hunting organizations (one and the same, since hunters are America’s premier conservationists). “A recission of the proposal will provide the opportunity for a meaningful discussion regarding the scientific data indicating the need for this policy and impacts of a change to the current BIDEH policy to the management of individual refuges across the country.”

The proposed plan has been a contentious one since the USFWS quietly released it back in early February with only a 30-day comment period. And the NRA has been involved in the fight since the very beginning.

In the letter to the USFWS, AWCP stated that it believes the group and its partner organizations have been mostly ignored during the comment period. Additionally, the member groups that signed onto the letter say there is a significant divergence between what they have read in the proposed rule and what they have heard in briefings from USFWS Refuge staff concerning implication of the rule.

“We believe that the current proposal in its entirety is too far adrift to be improved, and unfortunately, the proposal is far-reaching, too vague and in conflict with many refuge purposes to simply be amended or altered,” the letter stated.

A major concern AWCP has with the BIDEH proposal is that it does not prioritize the primary purpose of each individual NWRS unit. The Improvement Act specifically requires that when conflict arises between the NWRS mission and the established refuge purpose, the purpose of the unit itself should take precedence over the NWRS mission.

As the group’s earlier letter seeking an extended comment period noted, “Unfortunately, the BIDEH proposal does not appear to reflect this requirement as the proposal states: ‘The law states that each refuge must be managed to fulfill both the Refuge System mission and the specific purposes for which that refuge was established.’ While this statement is true, it makes a muddle of a clear part of the Improvement Act—that refuge purposes take priority over the mission of the NWRS rather than being placed on equal footing.”

About the Author
Freelance writer and editor Mark Chesnut is the owner/editorial director at Red Setter Communications LLC in Jenks, Okla. An avid hunter, shooter and bird dog field-trialer, he has been covering Second Amendment issues and politics on a near-daily basis for almost 25 years.