The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued interim guidelines today that will help state wildlife agencies evaluate and oversee field trials on lands acquired, managed or developed by states with funds from the Federal Aid in Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration programs.
By working with agencies and field trial organizers and participants to eliminate the negative impacts of some large field trials, the Service expects to improve habitat conditions, while also increasing the quality of hunting, angling and other outdoor recreation activities on some of these lands. The interim guidance is derived in large part from direction provided by Congress last year during passage of the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Programs Improvement Act of 2000, which amended the Federal Aid Program's authorizing legislation, popularly known as the Pittman-Robertson Act. In committee reports on the Act, Congress stated in part that "only field trials that do not adversely affect wildlife or wildlife conservation objectives are viewed as an acceptable use of Pittman-Robertson acquired lands."
"Field trials are a popular activity, and have a place on public lands. However, as Congress made clear, the Service's obligation is to protect the investment that our nation's hunters and anglers have made in wildlife habitat and conservation across the nation," said acting Service Director Marshall Jones. "We will continue to work with State wildlife agencies and field trial participants to ensure that these activities do not degrade habitat or interfere with other wildlife-related recreation."
Field trials are simulated hunts that are used to train and evaluate various breeds of dogs for upland and migratory bird hunting. These trials can involve the use of horses and large areas of land require extensive work to prepare and maintain courses and trails, and last from a few days to several weeks.
The interim guidance will serve to help state wildlife agencies assess the impacts of field trials and determine whether they should be permitted. After receiving stakeholder comments on the interim guidance, the Service will develop and incorporate a final set of guidelines into its policy manual within a year. All proposed field trial activity must be reviewed by State wildlife agencies and the Service for compliance with Federal grant rules and environmental regulations.
As part of its administration of the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration and the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Programs, the Service has the statutory responsibility to ensure that lands acquired, developed or managed using program funds are used in ways that conform to the intent of the programs as they were established by Congress. Land acquired, managed or developed by states using Federal Aid funds must be managed for the benefit of fish and wildlife-related activities.
Problems with some large field trials on land acquired, managed or developed with Federal Aid funding were identified in several states during audits conducted under the National Federal Aid Audit Program. The Service concluded that some field trials, particularly those that are conducted on horseback over large areas for an extended time, could disrupt hunting on the properties, damage wildlife habitat, and interfere with wildlife breeding, feeding and resting.
In some instances, intensive use of horses contributed to soil erosion and runoff into popular fishing spots, degrading aquatic habitat. Mowing of vegetation for field trial courses impaired or destroyed habitat in some areas. Audits also found that some field trial participants received preferential treatment through exclusive use of clubhouse facilities, horse barns, and bird pens. Construction of these facilities on land purchased, developed or managed with federal grant funds was not in compliance with grant rules and regulations.
Under the interim guidelines, States, in cooperation with the Service, will be responsible for developing their own regulations, policies and site-specific plans for permitting field trials.
The circumstances under which field trials are permitted will be required to be amended into existing Federal Aid grant language that governs management of each site, and required for all new grant proposals.
Other guidance provided by Congress:
Field trials that require significant manipulation of terrain, landscape, or vegetation, or intensive site management are generally not appropriate for lands acquired or managed with Federal Aid funds.
Intensive site management in this context would include regular mowing, permanent stables, dog kennels, equipment storage areas or other infrastructure onsite, which would degrade the value of the land as wildlife habitat.
Field trials proposed to be conducted during nesting or breeding seasons of the wildlife species for which the land was acquired would not be appropriate.
Field trials which require minimal manipulation of terrain, vegetation, or habitat would be appropriate if timed to avoid the breeding and nesting seasons of the species for which the land was acquired.
Proposals for field trials that conflict with hunting seasons or other public uses would require case-by-case evaluations and decisions.
More than 4 million acres of fish and wildlife habitat have been purchased by states with Federal Aid funds since the program began in 1937, an area equal to the combined size of Connecticut and Rhode Island. Nearly 40 million additional acres are managed for fish and wildlife under agreements with private landowners. The programs are funded by an excise tax on sporting arms, handguns and ammunition, fishing tackle, motor boat fuel and archery equipment.
Revenues generated by this excise tax are distributed each year by the Service through grants to state wildlife agencies for approved wildlife and sport fish restoration projects. Apportionments to states are based on the state's land area and number of licensed hunters and anglers. Funds are generally used by states to purchase land for fish and wildlife management, to fund research programs, and for specific fish and wildlife restoration efforts.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 94-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 535 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological service field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to State fish and wildlife agencies.
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