Tuesday, May 02, 2006

NEW JERSEY NEWS: Hunting controversy at National Wildlife Refuge

If deer hunting was outlawed at the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, the 8,000-acre site would be a harsh, deforested place for many creatures. Deer hunting is vital to the health of the 8,000 acres in the southeast Morris County, said refuge manager William Koch.

So, while he couldn't comment on the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance effort to block a lawsuit that seeks to ban hunting on some other refuges, Great Swamp manager William Koch is quick to praise the efforts of hunters at Great Swamp.

"Deer can have a very negative impact on the habitat, which is not only habitat for deer but also for many other species," he said.

In a lawsuit, The Fund for Animals/Humane Society of the United States asserts the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cannot allow hunting on 37 wildlife refuges without first creating an environmental impact statement (EIS) for each site. This would entail embarking on expensive and lengthy studies the Sportsmen's Alliance argues are unnecessary and not required by law.

"In simplest terms, Congress ... expressly recognized the legitimacy of hunting on units of the (refuge system) and directed the (Fish and Wildlife Service) to facilitate and increase these opportunities whenever they are determined to be compatible," says an Alliance motion. It asks a federal judge to dismiss the Fund for Animals/Humane Society lawsuit.

Koch said specific rules are followed by each refuge's management when it comes to allowing hunting. "There is a set process for opening areas to hunting that might include an environmental assessment or an environmental impact statement," he said. "Each specific refuge has a purpose, and it has goals and objectives on how it's going to achieve those goals. Hunting could enter into it, as it does here at Great Swamp, where deer hunting is a management tool."

Forcing each refuge to write an EIS might not satisfy the Humane Society's desire to ban hunting on wildlife refuges. Since hunting is widely considered the most effective way of controlling deer, the environmental impact of banning hunting could be terrible.

He said Great Swamp's main purpose is to provide habitat for migrating waterfowl. Because of that waterfowl hunting isn't allowed. "This isn't a large refuge," said Koch. "If we put waterfowl hunters out there, these birds wouldn't have much resting and feeding. A few would be harvested by hunters, but the rest would be chased out."

Hungry, overpopulated deer herds are another story. "Exotic, invasive species of plants tend to take over where deer eliminate the natural understory (of plants)," said Koch. "That's a very undesirable situation. It sets the stage for the invasive plants to move in and take over."

Nevertheless, the Humane Society refers to such habitat-centered arguments for deer hunting as "plausible, but not necessarily true." So bring on the deer deforestation, because -- even if the observations of guys like Koch are valid -- the Society still insists hunting "is fundamentally at odds with the values of a humane, just and caring society."

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