Land Use

Expanded Hunting Proposed at R.I.’s National Wildlife Refuges


The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has proposed opening the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge on Aquidneck Island and Rhode Island’s four other federal nature preserves to more hunting. (Joanna Detz/ecoRI News)

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is looking to expand hunting and fishing opportunities in Rhode Island’s five national wildlife refuges, to “provide the public with a high-quality recreational experience on complex lands.”

Here is a look at the proposed changes to hunting and fishing at the five refuges, according to the 91-page draft plan the federal agency released this month:

Block Island: All of the refuge’s 133 acres would be opened for white-tailed deer hunting. These hunting ares are identified as Beane Point, Grove Point, Sandy Point, Wash Pond, and Skippers Island. About 9 acres of Wash Pond would be opened for migratory waterfowl hunting — ducks, mergansers, and coot. Saltwater fishing will continue to be allowed from refuge shorelines.

John H. Chafee (at Pettaquamscutt Cove, divided between the towns of South Kingstown and Narragansett): About 461 acres of the refuge’s 563 acres would be opened for white-tailed deer, wild turkey, fox, and coyote hunting, with some season and weapon restrictions. Hunting areas are identified as Foddering Farms, Stedman, Star Drive, Mumford, Middlebridge, and Congdon Cove. The 130-acre Foddering Farms area would be open to the spring firearm turkey season, and about 116 acres would be opened for migratory waterfowl hunting.

Saltwater fishing would be allowed from the shoreline of the refuge, within 20 feet of the mean high-tide line, extending 985 linear feet from the kayak ramp.

Some areas of the refuge would remain closed to hunting and fishing, to reduce conflicts with other recreational, biological, or administrative uses. Hunting and fishing areas would be assessed annually for deteriorated habitat and, based on this assessment, these areas would be designated “either open or temporarily closed.”

Ninigret (Charlestown): Nearly all of the refuge’s 883 acres would be opened for white-tailed deer, wild turkey, coyote, and fox hunting, with some season and weapon restrictions. These hunting areas are identified as Kettle Pond, Lewis Tract, Salt Pond, and Barrier Beach.

Sachuest Point (Middletown): Since Sachuest has the most visitors of Rhode Island’s five refuges, with about 325,000 visitors annually, the 242-acre reserve wouldn’t be open to the general public for hunting. The refuge may be conducive to a limited, targeted group — such as veterans, women, youth, and/or hunters with disabilities — for deer, coyote, and fox. During hunts, the refuge would close to all other activities. The Fish & Wildlife Service said it doesn’t anticipate hunting activities to occur on an annual basis. Waterfowl hunting is allowed by boat offshore. Saltwater fishing from the refuge shoreline would remain prohibited.

Trustom Pond (South Kingstown): The federal agency has proposed opening 358 acres on the western portion of the 777-acre refuge to archery hunting for white-tailed deer, wild turkey, coyote, and fox. A 22-acre tract identified as Field 1 is currently open to Canada geese and mourning dove hunting. The proposed changes would open this area to duck, mergansers, and coot hunting.

The Fish & Wildlife Service noted that it would “design a hunting and fishing program that is administratively efficient and manageable with existing staffing levels” and that aligns with Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management “regulations when possible.”

It also noted that it would design a hunting and fishing program that is “in alignment with complex habitat management objectives.”

Two informational open houses had been scheduled for April 14 at the Kettle Pond Visitor Center in Charlestown and April 16 at the Sachuest Point Visitor Center in Middletown. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service canceled those meetings March 23 and extended the deadline of the public comment period from April 24 to May 16. On March 25, the agency extended the public review period to June 1.

Comments can also be submitted via email at [email protected] or by mailing to: Rhode Island NWR Complex, 50 Bend Road, Charlestown, RI 02813.


Join the Discussion

View Comments

Recent Comments

  1. part of the Trump regime’s war on wildlife no doubt. We already have hunting in our state "management" areas. Rather than promoting "high quality recreational experience" it does the opposite, it detracts from or makes it impossible to use for all those who want to experience the lands who don’t have the desire to kill wild animals. That said, when local wildlife exerts believe there is an unsustainable number of a species such as deer, then hunting should be considered.
    In general, including on the management lands, where hinting is allowed, there should be days where it is not so others can use the lands too. For example I believe Massachusetts does not allow hunting on state lands on Sundays.

  2. Wildlife conservation areas and estuaries meant to be preserved and protected as such , were never intended to be treated as ‘stocked’ game reserves for the state to make money . With rampant development , deforestation , encroachment , pollution, global warming etc ., it is imperative that we honor our roles as protectors and stewards of these amazing , and immense gifts of unspoiled land , water and diverse spectacular wildlife keeping her in balance. We are so fortunate to have had visionary leaders who had the foresight to enact such conservation , protection and preservation of these amazing unspoiled areas and it’s wildlife for us and future generations to come, or most certainly they would have already succumbed to exploitation and development. These areas were not intended to be used by the state to raise money by means of hunting permitting and licensing fees , and the spin off of such , as this sets into motion major conflicts of interest and divisiveness , exploiting the land by use of hunting for money , versus the intended stewardship and protection of the land and its natural inhabitants just trying to exist , while pushed to the brink in a diminishing world . This not only sets a most dangerous precedent but is a recipe for disaster putting the public in harms way and placing the burden of safety on them when out trying to enjoy the peace and beauty of all nature , of which was intended. We live in the twenty first century , it is not that people are dependent on hunting for their survival . The country and world is in the midst of an environmental emergency spurning everything from superstorms, droughts, infernos, global warming , extinctions, mass migration , disease, epidemics, pandemics, etc etc… We need to evolve into gratitude, Peace, empathy and compassion , not devolve into apathy and destruction! I do not want my hard earned tax dollars used to support this blatant disregard and exploitation of wildlife! I do not want our state DEM using the licensing and permitting frees, as leverage to allow this assault on our wildlife , obstructing our ethical and moral sensibilities and responsibilities as steward ship ! It sets a dangerous precedent , a blatant conflict of interest and is apathetic senseless and appalling !

  3. A couple of things appear to have been missed in some of the earlier comments.

    These are Federal lands, and this is a Federal proposal. The administrative authority is the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior, not the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. RI DEM should not be put immediately in the line of fire here. DEM may rightly be called on to express its opinion, but the U.S. F&W will be making the final decision.

    Second, it is a not so subtle political trap to assign blame for this proposal on hunters. Indeed, it is a widespread failing among people opposed to hunting that they do not know how large a role hunters have played and continue to play in the purchase and management of our state and national conservation lands. Since the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937, the Federal taxes paid on sporting arms and ammunition have been exclusively devoted to these purposes. For purchasing conservation land, these funds offer a 75% to 25% Federal-to-state matching formula, a pretty darned good deal and an absolutely vital one in the big picture. For however we may argue fine points concerning the impact of this program over, the bottom line is that Rhode Island, particularly rural western Rhode Island, would have very little state forest for the public to enjoy at all were this program never enacted.

    We all owe a lot to the hunters who pay those taxes and who have supported this program through three generations. They are allies of conservation, not adversaries. But how subtly now we are being played off one another by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, David Bernhardt, Trump’s second appointment to this position, a lawyer who spent his private career representing energy and agricultural interests against government environmental protections.

    How delightful, in this interest of Bernhardt’s and the President’s, to see hunter and non-hunter conservationists tearing into one another.

  4. This is a totally unacceptable way of categorizing reacreational activities for many of us, aside from the threat that many of us feel when trying to enjoy the outdoors in a public place. Designating wildlife refuges as hunting areas is contradictory, to say the least. At this point in time, many bird populations are in serious decline, facing habitat loss and climate change. We do not need more hunters in the midst of this crisis. So many other ways to "enjoy" the outdoors and mix with nature, rather than shooting at the inhabitants of the refuges.

  5. As someone mentioned below, hunting is already allowed in state management areas. The refuges are places I can go without fear of being SHOT as I take a walk in the woods. If there is an overpopulation problem, allow hunting for a short span of time to fix it.

  6. Please put more thought into the what the FWS is proposing before dismissing or opposing. White-tailed deer numbers are so high that ecological characteristics of all lands (not only refuges) are altered. Why? Deer are adaptable and people don’t coexist well with predators of deer. Species diversity is important. The refuges (by law) are a intended to be a lot more than a pretty place to go for a walk. While many refuge users may not like or support hunting, a large part of the funding for the refuges comes from excise taxes associated with hunting and fishing. Hunting is not always deemed suitable for a particular area, but it’s an important management tool when a refuge is being harmed by a particular species. I’ll disrespectfully suggest that constant public use does far more to diminish the natural habitat values of any refuge, than controlled wildlife management via hunting would.

    When I see smoke from a prescribed burn on a refuge, I don’t selfishly think that they are wrecking my beautiful walk. I think how wonderful that a habitat management practice that benefits grassland nesting species and displaces invasive plants is underway.

  7. First, I will not give you my opinion. I will give you the facts. Sachuest is a National Wildlife Refuge and is also public land. The Federal Government via Bureau of Land Management is required by law to manage the property in accordance to the principles of multiple use and sustained yield. This means they consider all the possible uses of the property and then narrow them down to only those that do not reduce the natural productivity of the land. They allow logging, livestock grazing, farming, and yes, hunting and fishing. They may say no to mining, drilling for oil, burying nuclear waste… if it doesn’t damage the land, it must be considered. It is in the multiple use doctrine.

    The Federal land in this case, has a site assessment and a management plan. Plants and animals are inventoried, ecosystems are studied, and management plans are proposed and implemented.

    In the case of hunting. Hunting is a management tool used to manage wildlife populations. In the United States, it is only allowed when there are surplus animals in a population so it fits the sustained yield component of the doctrine. Hunting license sales have been used to purchase, maintain, and police most of the wildlife refuges in the United States and State and Federal wildlife conservation is heavily dependent on license money and the voluntary 11% tax called the Pittmann, Robertson tax on all hunting gear. There is also an 11% tax on all fishing gear called the Dingle Johnson tax. Both voluntary, and applied by the manufacturer.

    So far, we have covered Sachuest is public land. Managed under multiple use, sustained yield doctrine. Hunting is considered viable because only surplus animals are taken. Hunting license and merchandise tax are responsible for purchase, maintenance, and policing of majority of wildlife refuges in the US.

    Now for the animals. Looking at deer. Deer can rapidly increase in numbers leading to depleting food sources, degrading habitat, and spreading disease. A healthy female deer will have twins annually averaging from year one to year eight. At one year each female offspring will do the same. That’s
    Year 1 🦌🦌
    Year 2 🦌🦌🦌🦌
    Year 3 🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌
    Year 4 🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌
    Year 5 🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌
    Year 6 🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌
    Year 7 🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌
    Year 8…..256 deer from 2 original animals.

    So letting deer reproduce unchecked will over run a habitat in no time. Then you get yarding, starvation, inbreeding, increases in car collisions, crop damage, spread of disease and degradation of habitat. You have to remove surplus animals above carrying capacity of land.
    There are 2 diseases Lyme Disease and Chronic Wasting Disease spread by deer and both are density dependent. There are huge issues with CWD in some States and it is very concerning. On and on we go.

    Now, about the hunting proposal. There is hunting on National Wildlife refuges. There is deer hunting archery only by permit in Ninigret. They also hunt deer and waterfowl in South Shore. They are proposing special permit only hunts to hunters requiring assistance, and promotional hunts. These are usually only a day here and a day there and they are supervised. They want to give hunters that would normally have difficulty an opportunity to harvest an animal. Again a surplus animal deemed in excess of the land’s carrying capacity. This is a very common way to manage wildlife populations without opening areas to the general public. They are also proposing seasons on other properties.

    I will share an experience from college where I witnessed a whole lot of deer die on Prudence Island one Winter. There was a study while I was there at URI, and carcasses were examined and most of the deer died of pneumonia brought on by starvation. You can identify this by looking at bone marrow. A model was developed and it went something like this

    Prudence island’s carrying capacity over a normal winter is about 300 deer.

    That year, there were about 400 deer.

    That Winter about 300 died. In the process, they ate everything on the island, including cedar shingles off people’s houses.

    About 80 deer were counted that Spring. Habitat was damages, especially over browsing. There wasn’t a branch on a tree below 6′ tall.

    If you have 400 deer and the land can support 300, none of them get enough to eat and many die. If hunters took 100 deer, 300 would get enough to eat and 300 would survive. This situation plays out everywhere there is a surplus of animals, especially in harsh winters. So wildlife biologists collect data, determine population densities, reproductive rates, carrying capacities and recommend season lengths, bag limits, and gender of animals taken. It is a scientific thing. You have to do it to maintain healthy populations and habitat.

    That’s it.

  8. Appreciate your comments, Robert. Two, small corrections: Pittman-Robertson, or the "Wildlife Restoration Act," as it is titled today, levels a Federal excise tax, as stated, on sporting arms, ammo, etc. It is not voluntary, however. Various states have various voluntary "check-off" taxes that are really in the nature of donations, but this tax is mandatory. The other thing is that BLM, although it does manage wildlife refuges of its own, "National Wildlife Refuges" are managed by U.S. Fish & Wildlife, a separate agency within the Dept. of the Interior. This is an important difference. BLM’s mission is essentially economic: the support and management of the economic use of the land under its jurisdiction—grazing, water, forests, mineral extraction—all the economic "resources" associated with the land, including game species. F & W is more narrowly focused on fish and game, and in the course of Pittman-Robertson’s evolution into "Wildlife Restoration Act," responsibility for managing non-game species, including those facing various levels of threat.

    Yes, as stated, there has been some deer management hunting going on in select locations for the reasons stated—deer overpopulation and the ecosystem damage that is doing. But if I’m reading this proposal correctly, essentially what is being sought is that hunting of the noted species will take place on the Refuges during the normal hunting seasons allowed everywhere else by RI DEM.

    Now, just to express my opinion, I think this is just politically unrealistic. Expanded use of hunting for the purpose of needful deer cull is a subject that might sustain a civil debate. But if this proposal, as written, were somehow implemented, I would expect a major public uproar beginning "Opening Day." For months on end—from the beginning of archery season in the autumn to turkey season at the peak spring— the non-hunting public, which has been enjoying these lands, anxiety-free, for a generation, would be self-excluding from these refuges for fear of hunters, (realistic or not.) They will be livid. And this is demographic that is politically sophisticated, too. They fought to get these refuges established. They’ve got the scrapbooks to prove it. They will show up at the Statehouse, they will crowd the waiting rooms of our Congressional delegation, they will demonstrate at the gates of these refuges, and some will enter them to protest, too.

    The other problem would seem to be legal. When you read Table 1, "Refuge Purpose," you read a daunting tangle of legal expressions. But some sound pretty clear, too, like "“use as an inviolate sanctuary, or for any other management purpose, for migratory birds.”

    "Inviolate." …Pretty unambiguous. …Or not, if you’ve got the legal team to argue that. If Fish & Wildlife pursues this, I think the final outcome will be tied up in the courts for the next decade.

  9. If the USFWS staff think these measures are necessary, they’re necessary. It’s not about hunters vs. non-hunters. Local resident Canada geese, the variety of predators suppressing ground nesting species (which impact species with ongoing management and restoration initiatives), and white-tailed deer need harvest-based management. If "the final outcome will be tied up in the courts for the next decade", as Eccleston has stated, so be it. It will be money and time well spent defending the USFWS authority and suppressing the selfish and misguided users that consider it a private park for their enjoyment.

  10. As a resident of Charlestown, I’ve seen the devastation to habitat as a result of deer overpopulation. There are simply too many deer and hunting is the only way to control the population. There really aren’t enough active hunters in the year 2020 to really worry about in any event.

  11. Dennis Bristow, Newport
    Id like to make a few points about the proposed plan for hunting at Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). I’ve been a trail maintenance volunteer at Sachuest for about seven years and I believe that I have a good sense of how the refuge works best. I’ve also read the draft proposal, news releases, visitors survey by the Ecological Education Department of The Ohio State University (2018), and some correspondence involving the refuge complex management and other interested parties. It looks to me as if Mr. Eccleston has his facts straight. Others are assuming certain facts and conditions that are not correct.

    First, there are no statements issued by US Fish and Wildlife Service that the proposed plan is for management of the deer herd. They do not have clear data on the numbers of deer in the refuge. It looks to me and other volunteers at the refuge as if there is a modest over-population of deer. If culling those excess deer were a valid need I would not want that job done by the proposed targeted groups (youth, veterans, women and persons with disabilities.) I’d want it done quickly and humanely by expert hunters which may include members of those targeted groups. That, however, is not the stated goal of "providing a high-quality recreational hunting experience for the public…." This would seem to make discussion on herd management irrelevant to this discussion.

    Of the other two species which could be hunted, I am sure that population control is not needed for fox. I don’t know any facts or data on the population of fox, but I’d be very surprised if they were excessive and out-of-balance. There is a lot of opinion on coyote. I don’t know enough to comment.

    A news release by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in early April, 2020 made it clear that there is a political motive to introduce hunting for recreation at the 100 for so national wildlife refuges where hunting is not allowed at present. A mandate has been delivered to all managers of NWRs throughout the country to expand the opportunities for recreational hunting.

    Finally, what I see, hear and smell at Sachuest. The small refuge (.38 square mile). on the most important flyway for migratory birds, is so well suited for bird watching and photography, nature observation and quiet peaceful walking that it would be a declaration of disdain and proof of ignorance of local conditions. I believe that the managers of the Rhode Island Complex of NWRs would be happiest if they could show USFWS and the Department of the Interior that there is a gigantic majority of emotional and well-versed opponents to hunting at Sachuest.

    Please, if you are not in favor of hunting at Sachuest, note your opposition by email to; [email protected] Before June 1, 2020.

  12. Mr. Bristow,

    Please talk to one of the refuge biologists and ask them if the number of deer at Sachuest and other refuges are affecting habitat diversity. Thickets with a lot more available energy for migratory birds would be the result after deer numbers were reduced. You can’t truly believe that the density of deer currently at Sacheust isn’t diminishing habitat values, can you?

    How about New England cottontail initiatives in the other refuges? While I don’t believe that hunting would have much of an effect on predators, each rabbit lost to predation is another step in the wrong direction.

    I’m so disappointed that opposition to management efforts on the refuges continue to be is driven by agendas that oppose hunting for the sake of opposing hunting, while at the same time, advocating for personal uses that diminish the refuge natural habitat values and species diversity.

  13. Brad Sherman, Charlestown
    Yes, two informational Open houses had been scheduled for April 14th at the Kettle pond Visitor Center and on April 16th at Sachuest Point. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife cancelled both of these Open meetings instead of just postponing them due to the Corona 19 virus. As a result the public has been denied another opportunity or two to express their opinions on this new proposal to expand fishing and hunting on the 5 refuges in an Open atmosphere instead of on a computer or piece of paper! These Open information Meetings should be Rescheduled especially since despite the past ,things in RI are beginning to open up. What about meetings outside? There’s plenty of open space at the refuges (right now) for people to spread out and be heard.
    This proposal is too important to us and future generations to deny the exchange of opinions in person. A letter can be tossed and an email erased but not an open exchange of ideas and opinions delivered in Person! No one in authority yet has explained to me "what the Rush is"?
    sincerely, Brad Sherman

  14. Unnecessary
    You create designate the beautiful places for the safe enjoyment for people who do not hunt or fish. Quiet places of peace. There are plenty of places to hunt and fishing at Narrow river has never done harm to anyone. Please think twice of what you are destroying.

  15. Before supporting the FWS in this proposal, understand that opening the RI refuges to hunting and fishing is just a small part of the overall mass opening of millions of acres of National Wildlife Refuges throughout the country, first announced by Secretary of the Interior Bernhardt in an August 19 press release, and then again on April 8 2020. It has nothing to do with management of anything, but simply this: (from the April press release)

    Washington, D.C. – Continuing the Trump Administration’s significant efforts to increase
    recreational access on public lands, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt announced
    today a historic proposal for new and expanded hunting and fishing opportunities across more
    than 2.3 million acres at 97 national wildlife refuges and 9 national fish hatcheries. This
    proposed rule is the single largest expansion of hunting and fishing opportunities by the U.S.
    Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) in history.
    “America’s hunters and anglers now have something significant to look forward to in the fall as
    we plan to open and expand hunting and fishing opportunities across more acreage nationwide
    than the entire state of Delaware,” said Secretary Bernhardt. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife
    Service’s Hunt Fish Chiefs have been instrumental in our effort over the past two years to
    streamline our regulations and identify new opportunities for sportsmen and women like no other
    previous administration.”

    The main reason is to prop up sport hunting which is rapidly declining in popularity with the American public. Less than 5% of Americans hunt, in urbanized states like RI it’s about 1%. If the Trump administration is behind it, then it’s to support the gun industry. More hunters means more guns sold and more excise taxes collected as revenue for fish and wildlife agencies. And by the way, that’s ALL guns sold, even the ones bought legally to kill people.

    If the refuge managers thought coyotes were causing a problem, or deer were overbrowsing, they would do what they do, "manage" the problem. Just like the way predators are "managed" in the piping plover colonies on refuge lands. When refuge managers want to "manage" something they are not going to depend on the public to do it for them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your support keeps our reporters on the environmental beat.

Reader support is at the core of our nonprofit news model. Together, we can keep the environment in the headlines.


We use cookies to improve your experience and deliver personalized content. View Cookie Settings