The Trump administration announced a proposed 2.3 million acre expansion of hunting and fishing opportunities Wednesday as part of its efforts to increase recreational access to public lands.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt called the expansion the single largest by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife 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,” Bernhardt said in a media release.
“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 proposal will free up over 2.3 million acres of federal land in 97 national wildlife refuges and nine fish hatcheries.
One of the new opportunities is the expansion of migratory bird hunting in Minnesota’s Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, Michigan’s Jordan River National Fish Hatchery and Washington’s Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery.
Hunting and fishing will also be allowed for the first time ever at a number of wildlife refuges, including San Diego Bay in California, Bombay Hook in Delaware and Everglades Headwaters in Florida.
Alligator hunting will be permitted in three wildlife refuges: Laguna Atascosa in Texas, Banks Lake in Georgia and Savannah in Georgia and South Carolina.
Big game hunting and pheasant hunting in some areas have also been expanded.
A full list of the affected refuges and hatcheries can be found on the United States Fish and Wildlife Service website.
“Hunting and fishing are an integral part of our nation’s culture, economy and care for the land. Increasing access and opportunities for people to take part in our sporting heritage strengthens broader conservation efforts,” Safari Club International CEO W. Laird Hamberlin said.
“By delivering on their promise to improve and increase hunting and fishing access, this Administration continues to be a champion for America’s sportsmen, wildlife and wild places.”
Some people criticized the timing of the announcement.
“Instead of responding to pleas by state and local officials for needed agency resources, assistance, and help during this generational [coronavirus] pandemic,” Director of the Western Value Project Jayson O’Neil told Fox News in a statement, “Secretary Bernhardt made a tone-deaf announcement that by no means could ever make up for the hunting opportunities and wildlife lost as a result of Trump’s deregulatory agenda decimating our public lands and environmental protections.”
“Bernhardt clearly needs to reassess his priorities to make sure the necessities of American families and workers are met first,” he added.
“You’d think President Trump and Secretary Bernhardt would have learned from their reckless decision to waive national park fees and encourage visitors that risked countless lives.”
Ducks Unlimited CEO Adam Putnam defended the timing of the announcement, saying it will give people an opportunity to distance themselves from others.
“As millions of people around the country feel trapped in their own homes due to the COVID-19 virus, having the opportunity to hunt and fish in the quiet of the wilderness or the tranquility of a lake is perhaps more important now than its ever been,” Putnam said.
“There’s never been a better time to enjoy the solitude of our public lands and distance yourself from the crowds.”
The public will have 60 days to comment on the proposed changes, starting on Thursday.
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