updated 9/1/2006 5:55:30 PM ET 2006-09-01T21:55:30

Dozens of wildlife refuges could be closed to hunters after a federal judge ruled that the government never considered the consequences of steadily expanding hunting rights for six years.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina has ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated federal law when it allowed or expanded hunting at 37 refuges from 1997-2003.

While the agency studied the consequences of opening each refuge to hunters, Urbina said officials had a responsibility to look at the effects systemwide.

“No one was looking at the cumulative effect when you open 37 refuges,” said Jonathan Lovvorn, vice president of the Humane Society of the United States and an attorney in the case. “You can’t have each refuge sticking their head in the sand.”

President Theodore Roosevelt began the wildlife refuge system in 1903, setting aside a tiny island off the east coast of Florida to protect pelicans and other birds from hunters. The system now includes more than 535 refuges where wildlife and its habitat are protected.

Environmental groups have criticized the government for allowing hunting, fishing and other recreational activities in many refuges.

While Urbina said in Thursday’s ruling that wildlife officials violated the law, he stopped short of overturning the hunting rules and asked attorneys for both sides to propose solutions.

Lovvorn said that could mean banning or scaling back hunting. A Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman said the agency remains committed to allowing hunting when it is compatible with the refuge mission.

“At this point there hasn’t been any indication anything is going to change immediately,” spokesman David Eisenhauer said. “It’s a little early to say what’s going to happen.”

The refuges at issue in the lawsuit are located primarily in the South, Virginia and Appalachia and the Pacific Northwest.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments