September 13, 2021

Anti-Sportsmen Priorities Included in Hunting/Fishing Plan for Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge

Contact: Joseph Mullin, Assistant Manager, Northeastern States


Why it Matters:  Hunting is one of six priority public uses of National Wildlife Refuges, and it is legislatively mandated by the Refuge System Administration Act of 1966 (as amended by the Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997). Reinforced as a priority use by Department of the Interior Secretarial Order 3356 (September 15, 2017), these priority uses of National Wildlife Refuges must receive enhanced consideration in planning and management over other uses. The final Recreational Hunting and Fishing Plan for the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge makes special recognition of this fact, but it included several anti-sportsman elements that run counter to generally accepted sporting traditions in both New Hampshire and Vermont, such as hunting with more than two dogs. What was initially poised to be a plan that would open additional access and opportunities for sportsmen and women to pursue game in New Hampshire and Vermont, has taken on a restrictive approach that detracts from the statutory and regulatory purposes for the National Wildlife Refuge System.

In an unusual and unanticipated move, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) took a wild change of course regarding the final language included in the Recreational Hunting and Fishing Plan for the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. Originally presented as a plan that was inclusive of additional sporting opportunities for those pursuing game on the refuge, which is situated within New Hampshire and Vermont, the final version that was recently published has many sportsmen and women scratching their heads. The plan includes restrictions such as requiring a Special Use Permit (which is issued at the refuge manager’s discretion) for hunting with more than two dogs, limiting dog training over the summer months, and eliminating the spring turkey season.

Many, if not most, of the anti-hunting provisions that were incorporated into the final plan were never raised by the USFWS as options they were considering in the draft plan that was open for public comment earlier this summer, meaning sportsmen and women were unable to provide input against these restrictions. Additionally, these provisions are generally inconsistent with hunting regulations in New Hampshire and Vermont – something that the USFWS considers when setting hunting and fishing plans for national wildlife refuges. Since the USFWS added these anti-sportsmen’s provisions into its final plan after the comment period, sportsmen and women were unable to adequately speak to these elements in their comments. 

The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation will be working towards the protection of access and opportunities at Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge and will provide additional updates as they are made available.

Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?

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