A proposal to expand the Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge seeks to protect species and habitats, but expansion by the federal government will nibble away at gun rights enjoyed by Vermonters.

The Conte refuge, established in 1997, protects flora and fauna across 36,000 acres in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to expand its purchase authority to 197,296 acres, according to the preferred option of the service’s comprehensive conservation plan. Federal ownership of Vermont territory would potentially grow from nearly 27,000 acres to about 90,000 acres under the plan.

The development is bad news for gun owners and hunters, who will see legal-in-Vermont sporting activities banned or restricted in expanded territory under federal ownership.

“One of the problems with the ambitious land acquisition plans is the service’s track record of intending to impose restrictions in excess of state law,” Steve McLeod, executive director of Vermont Traditions Coalition, told Watchdog.org.

Under the draft version of the plan, restrictions on sporting activities include bans on target shooting and shooting from the road, two popular hunting activities. While the service banned both practices in the last five years, expanding the refuge means the prohibitions will potentially spread across an additional 98 square miles in Vermont.

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