Trump’s Cabinet is putting his America First policies into place, including at the Department of Interior, where Secretary David Bernhardt announced a plan to open up more than 1.4 million acres of federal land through the elimination of some 7,500 regulations.
The land, under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, includes 74 national wildlife refuges and 15 national fish hatcheries.
President Trump is committed to expanding public access on public lands, and this proposal is executing on that directive by opening and increasing more access to hunting and fishing by the Fish and Wildlife Service at more stations and across more acres than ever before. Hunting and fishing are more than just traditional pastimes as they are also vital to the conservation of our lands and waters, our outdoor recreation economy, and our American way of life.
“These refuges and hatcheries provide incredible opportunities for sportsmen and women and their families across the country to pass on a fishing and hunting heritage to future generations and connect with wildlife,” Bernhardt said.
The press release on the announcement said:
The proposal would increase the number of units in the Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System where the public may hunt from 377 to 382, and the number where fishing would be permitted would be increased from 312 to 316. The proposal would also formally open lands on 15 hatcheries of the National Fish Hatchery System to hunting or sport fishing for the first time.
The proposal also outlines a comprehensive revision and simplification of all refuge-specific hunting and fishing regulations in all 50 states to more closely match state regulations while continuing to ensure safe and compatible opportunities. The Service worked closely with the states in preparing the proposed rule.
Margaret Everson, service principal deputy director, said
Well managed hunting and fishing are the backbone of conservation in this country, but inconsistent or overly complex regulations can act as a disincentive. By aligning our refuge regulations with our state partners, we are reducing confusion and the regulatory burden on the American public, helping ensure the tradition and benefits of hunting and fishing can continue.
For the first time, hunters and fishers will have access to the Green Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin and will have open access to the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in Wyoming for deer and elk hunting for the first time on federal land open for other hunting.
Other proposed expansions include opening new acres of St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Florida “to existing upland and big game hunting.”
And expansion of season dates, times, and methods for existing deer, turkey, and other upland game hunting to align with state seasons at Great River National Wildlife Refuge in Illinois and Missouri is in the plan.
The DOI press release said:
Proposed changes at hatcheries include the formal opening of lands on Leadville National Fish Hatchery in Colorado to migratory game bird, upland game and big game hunting, and the formal opening of lands on Iron River National Fish Hatchery in Wisconsin to migratory game bird, upland game and big game hunting. Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery in Texas and Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery in Washington are proposing to formally open their lands to sport fishing.
Ed Carter, president of the Association and Executive Director of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources, praised the development:
The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies is delighted by this announcement of a continuing commitment by the Department of the Interior to expanded access for regulated hunting and angling, on National Wildlife Refuges, in partnership with state fish and wildlife agencies. We need to get people outside to enjoy the lands and waters, and fish and wildlife resources, of our great nation. This is an important step in that direction.
John Devney, senior vice president at Delta Waterfowl, said Interior is building on the progress the Trump administration has made on including access to federal refuge lands since the president came into office.
“Duck hunters have been leaders in investing in the refuge system and this action will provide them with new access and opportunities,” Devney said. “We are sincerely grateful to Secretary Bernhardt and the Fish and Wildlife Service staff who have worked hard to create these new opportunities for hunters.”
“The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation applauds Secretary Bernhardt for his efforts to expand hunting and fishing opportunities within the National Wildlife Refuge System,” Jeff Crane, president of the foundation said.
Bernhardt spoke to the Paul Bedard at the Washington Examiner, explaining what the president told him.
“He’s basically said, ‘Git-R-Done,’” Bernhardt said of the plan to eliminate 7,500 regulations to open up access to 1.4 million acres of federal land.
“The president fundamentally gets that hunters and anglers are the true conservationists in our society,” Bernhardt said. “He understands that history and that we need to act in efforts to expand hunting and fishing while at the same time being respectful of private land rights, respectful of state law.”
The announcement included some statistics about hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreation activities in the United States:
- Hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities contributed more than $156 billion in economic activity in communities across the United States in 2016, according to the Service’s National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, published every five years.
- More than 101 million Americans — 40 percent of the U.S. population age 16 and older — pursue wildlife-related recreation, including hunting and fishing.
- The Refuge System is an unparalleled network of 567 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts.
- A national wildlife refuge is within an hour’s drive of most major metropolitan areas.
- More than 55 million Americans visit refuges every year.
- There are 70 national fish hatcheries visited by more than two million people each year.
“For more than 145 years, the National Fish Hatchery System has worked collaboratively with tribes, states, landowners, partners, and stakeholders to promote and maintain healthy, self-sustaining populations of fish and other aquatic species,” the press release said.
Follow Penny Starr on Twitter