By Larry Keane
America’s hunting heart is getting a whole lot more room to roam.
Secretary of the Department of the Interior David Bernhardt announced a public hunting and fishing access plan of historic proportions. Sec. Bernhardt is proposing a rule that would open 2.3 million acres to hunting and fishing at 97 national wildlife refuges and nine national fish hatcheries. It’s the largest ever expansion of public hunting and fishing opportunities in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s history.
For hunters, it is a welcome announcement that America’s heart is wild, open and welcomes the contributions of conservation-minded hunting.
The proposal dramatically increased hunting opportunities across the country. It increases hunting on National Wildlife Refuges to 399 locations and will open hunting and fishing on nine units of National Fish Hatchery Systems lands. When totaled up as one species at one station in one state, it’s nearly 900 distinct new hunting and fishing opportunities. Those opportunities will be in just about every corner of the country too.
New and Expanded Opportunities
- In Florida, for the first time, migratory bird, upland and big game hunting along with sport fishing will be opened on the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge.
- Wyoming’s Bamforth National Wildlife Refuge will gain big game and upland game hunting opportunities.
- West Virginia’s Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge would see hunters gaining expanded opportunities for migratory birds, upland and big game.
- Washington state’s Willapa National Wildlife Refuge would see more acres added to areas where hunters pursue big game.
- Texas’s Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge would gain acres to existing big game hunting there too.
- California’s San Luis National Wildlife Refuge would see hunters benefit from the expansion of season dates for existing pheasant hunting.
- Minnesota’s Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge would expand existing migratory bird, upland and big game hunting and sport fishing to new acres.
Hunting at fish hatcheries would be opened too.
- Michigan’s Jordan River National Fish Hatchery would open lands to migratory bird, upland and big game hunting.
- Washington state’s Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery would welcome migratory bird, upland and big game hunting.
This is another example of how the Trump Administration and Sec. Bernhardt continue to deliver to outdoorsmen and women they know are paying for the abundant wildlife in America. The administration already opened 1.4 million acres for new or expanded hunting and fishing opportunities. This proposed rule change would grow that to nearly 4 million acres for sportsmen and women to take the outdoors.
The firearm industry and hunters and anglers have been footing the bill. Firearm manufacturers paid $12.5 billion since 1937 in Pittman-Robertson excise taxes. Purchases by hunters and anglers supported nearly $1 billion in excise taxes last year, all which sustain conservation programs. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported 15 million hunting licenses were sold. These are all funds that combine to purchase and restore wildlife lands, easements and access as well as perpetuate wildlife conservation efforts.
Hunters are the original conservationists. The proof is in the abundant wildlife across the nation today. Just over a hundred ago, the outlook wasn’t healthy. Just half million whitetail deer existed. Today, they number over 32 million. Few ducks were in the marshes, but today, over 44 million follow their migration patterns. Fewer than 41,000 Rocky Mountain Elk bugled in the mountains and today there are over a million. Just 100,000 turkeys gobbled from the roost but today, hunters chase more than 7 million. The pronghorn antelope dwindled to just 50,000 just 50 years ago. Now, because of hunter-supported activities, they number over 1.1 million.
This is a success story and a future investment. As much as hunting and recreational target shooting have supported wildlife and habitat conservation, this move by Sec. Bernhardt creates more than opportunity. It creates tomorrow’s hunters who will perpetuate wildlife conservation for the future.
Larry Keane is Senior Vice President of Government and Public Affairs and General Counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry trade association.