Sportsmen Win Major Courtroom Battle Protecting Hunting on Public Lands

Sportsmen Win Major Courtroom Battle Protecting Hunting on Public Lands
Sportsmen Win Major Courtroom Battle Protecting Hunting on Public Lands

From U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Federal Judge James S. Gwin has ruled in favor of sportsmen by denying a lawsuit aimed at closing hunting on dozens of units of the 100-million acre National Wildlife Refuge System.

This long running case began in 2003 when the Fund for Animals, which later merged with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), filed a lawsuit to stop hunting on 39 refuges. The U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance Foundation (USSAF), along with other organizations, intervened on behalf of sportsmen. Anti-hunting groups later expanded the lawsuit to include more than 50 refuges.

Judge Gwin’s ruling stops HSUS' attempt at using the National Environmental Policy Act to close hunting on these refuges. In making the decision, the judge noted that “Plaintiffs, however, are not entitled to an inviolate sanctuary for their preferred uses – Congress has determined that, to the extent possible, hunters, fishers, observers, photographers, and educators must share the refuges.”


The judge's ruling relied heavily on language in the 1997 Refuge Improvement Act, championed by the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance, which made hunting, fishing and other wildlife oriented activities priority uses on refuge units. The Act also mandated hunting and fishing activities be "facilitated."


It is unknown at this time if HSUS will appeal the ruling.

"The majority of refuges were created to be open to hunting but relentless attacks by anti-hunting groups forced Congress to spell it out in law," said Rob Sexton, USSAF vice president for government affairs. "Now, the courts have once again ruled that hunting is a priority use of refuge land wherever and whenever compatible with wildlife management."

The U.S. Sportsmen’s Legal Defense Fund (SLDF), the legal arm of the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation, has worked since the beginning of this case to defend the rights of hunters and has collaborated with other groups including Safari Club International (SCI). Together, the SLDF and SCI are co-counsels and also represent Ducks Unlimited, the National Rifle Association, Izzak Walton League, Delta Waterfowl Foundation, and California Waterfowl Association.

National Wildlife Refuges provide excellent opportunities for sportsmen to pursue waterfowl, big game, furbearers, and much more. Hunting is a popular public activity on refuge land and a practical means of maintaining optimal wildlife populations.


The National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966 empowered the Fish and Wildlife Service to open refuges to hunting when compatible with the purposes for which the refuges were established. In 1997, National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act went a step further. It ensures that refuges are managed for wildlife conservation and that hunting and fishing are priority public uses on refuge units.

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