WASHINGTON (CN) - A federal judge backed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's findings that expanding hunting in 60 national wildlife refuges will not have a significant impact on the environment.
The ruling strikes down a motion for summary judgment filed by Fund for Animals and other environmental groups, which argued that the Service "violated the National Environmental Policy Act ... when it failed to consider the cumulative impact of the 1997 to 2005 opening and expansion of hunting on 60 national wildlife refuges."
U.S. District Judge James Gwin found that when the Fish and Wildlife Service expanded hunting across the refuges through nine final rules, it was not arbitrary or capricious and did not violate the Administrative Procedure Act.
The National Wildlife Refuge System includes more than 540 wildlife refuges on more than 95 million acres. The refuges are home to more than 700 species of birds, 220 species of mammals, and 250 threatened and endangered species.
In 2007, acting deputy director of the Fish and Wildlife Service Kenneth Stansell began investigating the issue, asking local refuge authorities to consider the impact hunting would have on their areas.
"Each refuge was also asked to consider the 'past, present, proposed, and reasonably foreseeable actions that may have an impact on the species being hunted, other refuge resources, and other wildlife-dependent refuge activities,'" the judge wrote.
The Service found that the expanded hunting would not have a significant impact, but more litigation in 2008 caused the Service to hire a private contractor to conduct another assessment, which yielded the same result.
"Plaintiffs say the environmental assessments are substantively flawed ... because they do not meaningfully grapple with the cumulative impact of hunting across the entire refuge system, including regional, flyway, and national level impacts," Gwin wrote.
The groups claimed that the local analyses failed to address the cumulative impact of increased hunting on non-hunting visitors, migratory birds and endangered species. Gwin rejected their claims, finding that the Service's methods complied with the National Environmental Policy Act.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service, in finding that opening or expanding hunting across the refuge system would not significantly impact on the environment, adequately analyzed the direct, indirect, and cumulative impact of hunting across a wide range of components of the environment," Gwin wrote.
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