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November 23, 2004 > Our Wildlife Refuge - A Place of Sanctuary or a Hunting Club?

Our Wildlife Refuge - A Place of Sanctuary or a Hunting Club?

by Nancy Lyon

It may come as a jarring shock to some that sport hunting is allowed in our national wildlife refuges. In fact, our own Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge (SFBWR) has for many years permitted recreational killing of waterfowl on over 7,500 acres of the refuge. Even with the addition of the Cargill lands this is still 25% of the total refuge. This practice has many questioning what seems to be a contradiction to its designated purpose as a sanctuary for wildlife.

To make a bad situation worse, there is a new proposal to add hunting options on newly acquired Cargill lands of the SFBWR. This has prompted the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) to ask for public comment on the appropriateness of the proposed amendment to the Refuge Hunting Plan. If approved, this amendment would open an additional 2,500 to 5,000 acres of former Cargill lands to seasonal waterfowl killing and increasing the percentage of refuge land open to hunting to 33-40%!!!

The use of national refuges designated as places of sanctuary for wildlife and migratory birds as hunting clubs has raised a storm of national controversy. The term refuge itself implies a place of safety in a world that increasingly and negatively impacts the survival of wildlife. The first National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS) refuges established by Theodore Roosevelt were originally "inviolate sanctuaries" where no hunting or trapping was allowed. This, however, has changed over time and the purity of intent and policy has fallen beside the wayside.

There are no reservations or special permits required for hunting on the refuge. No fees are charged and the only requirements are that a person be a minimum age of 16-years-old, possess a valid and signed federal and state duck stamp, and have a valid California hunting license. Basically, there is very little oversight of the hunting activities.

Despite waterfowl hunter educational efforts, a recent Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) report states that hunter identification of species under field conditions is often limited. This puts protected species at risk with hunters shooting at 90 per cent of ducks and 100 percent of geese. It also indicated that a feeling of social competition may exist among some hunters, which may result in a frowned upon practice called "skybusting" a term that speaks for itself.

"Clean" kills are not always the result and self-reported hunter statistics indicate a crippling and wounding rate of 6-18 percent of all ducks and geese shot, while observers place the crippling rate at 20-40 percent. According to a sophisticated HSUS mathematical reanalysis of U.S. hunter crippling and wounded waterfowl data, estimates indicate that for every duck killed another is crippled and dies slowly and cruelly. When using pellets, an outright kill depends upon skill and appropriate range. The magnitude of waste, cruelty and destruction resulting from recreational killing of waterfowl challenges any arguments that it is somehow in the best interests of the species.

Many migratory birds are presently "under the gun" from proposed reformation of the Migratory Bird Treaty with members of Congress and some environmental organizations trying to gut this international treaty for protection for birds who by their very nature are citizens of the world. If these protections are removed, a number of species of waterfowl will face increasing pressure that endangers their survival. As a part of the Pacific Flyway, the SFBWR is a very important part of the migratory bird system and the expansion of sport killing of waterfowl, if allowed, adds another grim note of concern for the survival of these wild and wonderful creatures.

The Ohlone Humane Society does not support the killing of any animal in the name of sport. Killing animals "for the fun of it", for the purpose of recreation and not survival, is an unacceptable and barbaric practice for a humane, just and caring people. That it continues to be permitted on public lands designated for the protection and continuance of wildlife is a travesty of the name refuge. We support and ask public support for the amendment option that would prohibit additional recreational hunting in the refuge.

The SFBWR is making available three documents for public information and commentary: the amendment, the draft environmental assessment, and a compatibility determination. If you are interested in reviewing the documents, they may be viewed on the refuge website at or by visiting the refuge headquarters at 1 Marshlands Road, Fremont or the Environmental Education Center, 1751 Grand Blvd., Alviso. You can address questions to Refuge Manager Clyde Morris at 510-792-0222. Written comments may also be sent by fax to 510-792-5828 or e-mailed to To influence the decision all comments must be received by December 3rd.

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