The Progressive


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For Immediate Release
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Lawsuit to Protect Varmints in Mojave National Preserve

Park Service Shirks Duty to Regulate Hunts to Shield Tortoise & Non-Game Wildlife


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

"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

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.