Washington, DC — The National Park Service has failed to protect desert tortoise and other non-game wildlife from reckless and excessive hunting in the Mojave National Preserve of California, according to a lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The Mojave preserve is one of approximately 40 park units where the NPS has yet to put hunting rules in place, as required by its own Management Policies, to protect park wildlife from needless depredation.
The failure of NPS to adopt hunting rules at the Mojave National Preserve means that non-game wildlife, such as badgers and skunks (classified as “varmints”) are subject to virtually year-round hunting under state game rules. Another casualty has been the threatened desert tortoise, which is protected by law from hunting but is often the victim of reckless hunters. One study, for example, found nearly 15% of desert tortoise carcasses showed signs of gunshot. In addition, carcasses left by hunters attract ravens, which prey on tortoises. As a result, the official Recovery Plan for the desert tortoise plus the Mojave Preserve General Management Plan both prescribe that hunting be restricted to big game and upland birds.
Despite promises to put these hunting rules in place, NPS never acted. In June 2002, PEER and other groups petitioned the Secretary of the Interior to promulgate hunting rules for Mojave. In April 2004, a top Interior official said in a letter to PEER that “The park fully intends to pursue promulgation of federal regulations,” but did not follow through. In May 2009, PEER wrote to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar again requesting action but never received an answer. Today’s suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, charges Interior with failing to provide “prompt consideration” of the 2002 PEER rulemaking petition, as required by the Administrative Procedure Act.
“This lawsuit is not anti-hunting. All we are trying to do is make sure that this legitimate recreational activity is done in a manner compatible with the Park Service mandate to protect non-game wildlife,” stated PEER General Counsel Paula Dinerstein, who filed the complaint. “Congress established the Mojave National Preserve back in 1994 but the Park Service has yet to ensure that hunting inside the Preserve conforms to law and agency policy.”
While hunting is generally prohibited in national parks, national preserves typically allow hunting. Some of the biggest units of the National Park System are preserves, such as Big Cypress in Florida and Mojave. Although hunting is allowed in national preserves, the NPS has the legal duty to regulate it to protect wildlife by adopting special rules. To date, however, only around one-third of the 62 national park units which allow hunting have special rules as required by agency policy.
“We have been surprised and disappointed that the Park Service national leadership does not seem to place a priority on protecting park wildlife,” said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting the agency’s apparent abandonment of a proposed ban on lead ammunition and its failure to publicly oppose repeal of rules forbidding the carrying of loaded firearms in national parks. “Despite our hopes for change, we fear there will be further retreats from protections for national park resources.”