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Washington, DC, Sept. 11, 2018 — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has announced a “commitment to defer” to state hunting and fishing practices on all lands within agency purview. His order is a stunning abdication of a more than century-old legal foundation of federal primacy for wildlife management on federal lands, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
In a September 10, 2018 Memorandum to Heads of Bureaus and Offices, Zinke declared that henceforth states will be the “first-line authorities for fish and wildlife management” on all Interior lands and that Interior “hereby expresses its commitment to defer to the States in this regard.” To implement this reversal, Zinke directs Interior agencies compile any “regulations, policies, guidance that pertain to public recreational use and enjoyment of fish and wildlife…that are more restrictive than otherwise applicable State provisions” within 45 days. Within 90 days after that, each agency is supposed to recommend steps “to better align its regulations, policies, and guidance with State provisions.”
“This across-the-board abandonment of federal fish and wildlife safeguards is rooted in an ideological stance unsupported by any factual analysis,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, arguing that Zinke ignores the fact that many state game agencies are funded by hunting and fishing license fees and pursue practices, such as predator control, to maximize that revenue. “Federal parks, preserves, and refuges have a mission to protect biodiversity and should not be reduced to game farms.”
A sample of what Zinke’s memo could usher in is reflected by his controversial order that the National Park Service open its Alaska preserves to questionable hunting and trapping techniques, such as killing bear cubs and wolf pups in their dens, luring bears with bait, and shooting swimming caribou from a motorboat. Zinke’s order would put any federal wildlife protection not required by law on a path to repeal. This could mean federal parklands, refuges, and rangelands may have to accommodate states:
- Introducing non-native fish to natural lakes in a park or exotic pheasants for upland game bird hunting;
- Eliminating all wolves or other natural predator populations in a game management area; or
- Approving destructive or dangerous hunting techniques, such as trapping in hiking venues, hunting with dogs even on island refuges, hunting contests, and absence of bag limits.
Zinke’s memo posits the premise that “State governments have consistently demonstrated their commitment to sustaining fish and wildlife resources in perpetuity for the benefit of both current and future citizens.” This statement not only is demonstrably untrue but ignores the conditions leading to enactment of the federal Endangered Species Act.
“Mr. Zinke says that he does not want to give away ownership of federal lands but happily cedes their management,” added Ruch. “With his penchant for sweeping yet ill-considered actions, Ryan Zinke is on a trajectory to become the worst Secretary of the Interior since Teapot Dome.”