Elk NetworkJudge to Sportsmen: Sit Down, Be Quiet, Trust the Government

General | April 14, 2022

Below is a joint news release from the Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Safari Club International and National Rifle Association.

On April 6, 2022, a U.S. District Court judge in Missoula, Mont., unceremoniously denied sportsmen the right to intervene or even file legal comment in a lawsuit filed by a radical environmental organization concerning the 2020 expansion of hunting and fishing on 2.2 million acres of the National Wildlife Refuge System implemented during the Trump Administration.

Judge Donald Molloy, who was appointed by President Clinton in 1996, denied the request to intervene by the Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Safari Club International and National Rifle Association in the case of Center for Biological Diversity vs United State Fish & Wildlife Service. Going further, he also denied the hunting coalition’s ability to comment through an amicus brief.

“Essentially, sportsmen were just told to sit down, be quiet and trust the government,” said Evan Heusinkveld, president and CEO of Sportsmen’s Alliance. “The fact that a diverse coalition representing the very people most impacted by this case aren’t allowed to even file a brief is unthinkable.”

In his opinion, Molloy said that if Center for Biological Diversity is successful in revoking the 2020 expansion in court, the organizations can file their comments during any new rulemaking process in the future. He added that the coalition of hunting organizations do not provide any arguments or expertise that the government can’t make. He continues that no proof was presented showing that the government doesn’t have the best interest of hunters, anglers, sport shooters and other outdoorsmen in mind when arguing the case or, perhaps more importantly, making settlement offers.

“Sportsmen have not been allowed a seat at the table and there has been zero communication from the Biden administration on settlement talks regarding this case,” said Heusinkveld. “And now the judge has unequivocally locked us out of the room completely.”

Hunters and anglers have had a huge economic impact on the funding of wildlife refuges. Sportsmen have funded the expansion and upkeep of the National Wildlife Refuge System for decades through the federal Duck Stamp, which allows the purchase of vital habitat or acquisition of conservation easements within the National Wildlife Refuge System. Since 1934, almost 6 million acres of habitat have been conserved with the help of Duck Stamp funds.

In November, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) filed suit over the 2020 expansion of hunting and fishing opportunities on 2.2 million acres within the refuge system. The litigious group alleges that hunting on refuges threatens endangered species due to hunters trampling critical habitat, through lead poisoning from spent ammunition and fishing tackle, and because grizzly bears could be mistakenly shot by hunters believing them to be black bears or in self-defense.

The lawsuit seemed a long shot given the 1997 National Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act, landmark legislation drafted and pushed through Congress by the Sportsmen’s Alliance, which ensured that hunting, fishing and trapping would occur on any refuge where it is compatible. The historic law has opened millions of acres to hunting as every Presidential administration since has touted expansion of opportunities within the system.

However, the surprise joint filing by the Biden Administration and CBD asking for a delay in the court proceedings while the two sides conduct settlement talks sends an alarming message to hunting groups that were preparing to intervene in the lawsuit to ensure the rights of sportsmen are protected. Should the administration reach an agreement, CBD would likely not have to spend a single legal dollar, as these settlements often include payment of legal fees using taxpayer dollars under the Equal Access to Justice Act. Worse, any settlement will likely include restrictions or revocation of hunting opportunities.

The Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation and our partners are evaluating all options that will best protect the interests of hunters, anglers and trappers when it comes to access and opportunity on the National Wildlife Refuge System. Any appeal would be heard by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

(Photo credit:  West Virginia Division of Natural Resources)