From U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance Foundation
-- In a major victory for sportsmen and conservationists nationwide, a federal court has ruled to protect hunting and wildlife management on an important parcel of federal land. The ruling reiterates that wildlife management takes precedent over protectionism on the nation's National Wildlife Refuges.
Judge Mary H. Murguia of the U.S. District Court for Arizona decided in favor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in a case brought against it by Wilderness Watch and the Arizona Wilderness Coalition.
In the suit, the plaintiffs had claimed that FWS violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Wilderness Act by constructing and restoring wildlife watering devices on the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). While these devices are key for the survival of bighorn sheep and other desert wildlife, the plaintiffs claimed they violated federal law.
Last year, the U.S. Sportsmen's Legal Defense Fund (U.S. SLDF), the litigation arm of the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance Foundation (USSAF), moved to defend FWS and several sportsmen groups in the case. The U.S. SLDF argued that a "Wilderness" designation does not preclude wildlife conservation.
Joining the U.S. SLDF were several other groups including: Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society, Arizona Deer Association, Arizona Antelope Foundation, Foundation for North American Wild Sheep, Yuma Valley Rod & Gun Club, Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association.
"This decision establishes that conservation in a wildlife refuge does not take a back seat to the concept of an area being designated as wilderness," stated USSAF Senior Vice President Rick Story. "Hopefully, this will prevent other efforts to prohibit active wildlife management in refuges that have been given the wilderness designation."
The Kofa National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1939. It is home to desert bighorn sheep and an array of other wildlife species. In 1990, more than 80 percent of the refuge was designated Wilderness by Congress.
The U.S. Sportsmen's Legal Defense Fund is the nation's only litigation force that exclusively represents sportsmen's interests in the courts. It defends wildlife management and sportsmen's rights in local, state and federal courts. The SLDF represents the interests of sportsmen and assists government lawyers who have little or no background in wildlife law.