As part of President Donald Trump’s commitment to open public lands to the public, his administration has proposed expanding access at federally controlled wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries by more than 1.4 million acres.
The proposal is currently up for public comment and could take effect this fall.
“He’s basically said, ‘Git-R-Done,’” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said of Trump in an interview, according to the Washington Examiner.
“The president fundamentally gets that hunters and anglers are the true conservationists in our society. 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,” Bernhardt said.
The proposal would increase the number of places managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service that are open for hunting and fishing. Sites in the National Wildlife Refuge System open for hunting will increase from 377 to 382, while sites open for fishing will increase from 312 to 316.
Within the National Fish Hatchery System, 15 sites will be open for hunting or fishing for the first time, according to a statement on the Interior Department’s website. A full list of sites is available through the Fish and Wildlife Service’s website.
“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,” Bernhardt said in a Department of the Interior news release.
“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.”
In the Examiner interview, Bernhardt said access is the first step to appreciation of all America’s outdoors has to offer, and recalled his access to federal lands in Colorado as an example.
“Exposure matters,” he told the newspaper.
“Having those opportunities to succeed and fail made me more confident and made me more willing to accept challenges. [If] I lived somewhere where my parents had to drive 300 miles for me to hunt or fish, it wouldn’t have happened at all, though that might have been a lot better for my grades,” he said.
Bernhardt related a comment from former Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, who told Bernhardt early in his career with the Interior Department to buy a boat.
“He said, ‘You need to get a boat. The great thing about a boat, if you get your kids on one, even if they are with their friends, they’re stuck with you,’” Bernhardt said, noting that his children are now as fond of the outdoors as he is.
In the Examiner interview, Bernhardt said that his staff went through federal regulations and culled a slew of them to simplify life for sportsmen, and that the new rules align federal regulations with state ones to end confusion.
“You’ve got to be a lawyer to figure out if you can hunt or can’t hunt,” he said, describing the current rules-heavy climate that limits access to public land.
“The biggest reason people don’t start or don’t stay hunting or fishing is largely the access to areas. I think there’s a lot of opportunity to expand access,” he said.
The proposal has the support of many groups that support the outdoors.
“This announcement will benefit America’s sportsmen and -women by providing access to prime hunting and fishing areas,” Christy Plumer, chief conservation officer for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, said according to the Washington Examiner.
In the DOI news release, Ed Carter, president of the Association and Executive Director of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, said it is time that Americans fully enjoyed their nation.
“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,” he said.
John Devney, senior vice president of Delta Waterfowl noted that hunters who have invested in the system are getting something back.
“Duck hunters have been leaders in investing in the refuge system and this action will provide them with new access and opportunities,” he said in the release.
“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.”
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