by Karen Mehall Phillips - Thursday, April 9, 2020
Acting on the Trump Administration’s ongoing commitment to increasing recreational access on public lands, yesterday U.S. Secretary of the Interior (SOI) David L. Bernhardt and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Director Aurelia Skipwith announced a historic proposal to expand hunting and fishing opportunities on 2.3 million acres, marking the single largest expansion of hunting and fishing opportunities by the DOI’s USFWS in history. Bringing the total expansion of hunting and fishing opportunities under President Donald J. Trump to 4 million acres, the move opens or expands opportunities on 97 national wildlife refuges and nine national fish hatcheries.
“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,” Interior Secretary Bernhardt said in an official Department of Interior (DOI) news 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 proposed rule aims to create nearly 900 distinct new hunting and fishing opportunities, with an opportunity defined as one species on one field station in one state. This increase is on top of last September’s expansion impacting expansion on 1.4 million acres, which at the time already had doubled the federal acreage made available to sportsmen over the previous five years combined.
“Once the Trump Administration’s effort to eliminate the threat of COVID-19 has been successful, there will be no better way to celebrate than to get out and enjoy increased access for hunting and fishing on our public lands,” said USFWS Director Skipwith, who enjoys speaking with American hunters and anglers about the Trump Administration’s commitment to upholding our outdoor heritage. “I deeply appreciate everything sportswomen and men do for conservation and our economy, so I am delighted when we can do something to expand opportunities for them. I hope it will help encourage the next generation of hunters and anglers to continue on this rich American tradition.”
Support from the National Rifle Association (NRA), America’s largest organization of hunters, was immediate. "This is a truly historic expansion and wonderful news for America’s sportsmen and women," said Erica Tergeson, director of hunting policy for the NRA Institute for Legislative Action. "During these trying times, we are all grateful for some positive news. The prospect of access to more hunting and fishing opportunities will give many Americans something to look forward to in the fall but, more importantly, it will help many who depend on hunting to provide food for their families. On behalf of the NRA's five million members, we wholeheartedly thank Secretary Bernhardt and Director Skipwith."
And speaking of having something to look forward to this fall, as SOI Bernhardt promotes, consider tapping into online hunter education opportunities. During this time of quarantine, those interested in hunting can check out the NRA’s free online hunter education course or the new free online hunter education refresher course for experienced hunters.
Public Comments Welcome
The USFWS seeks comments from the public on the proposed rule for the next 60 days, starting on Apr. 9 per today’s announcement in the Federal Register. The notice is available at Regulations.gov, Docket Number: FWS-HQ-NWRS-2020-0013, and explains how to submit comments.
The DOI looks forward to finalizing proposed changes in time for the 2020-2021 hunting seasons. A complete list of all refuges and hatcheries benefiting from the proposal is available in the proposed rule. You can also view a U.S. map pinpointing the locations of national wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries proposing to open or expand hunting and fishing.
For more good news, hunters will appreciate that the new proposed rule also advances last year's rule to revise refuge hunting and fishing regulations so that they better align with state regulations in the given state where the refuge is located. Clearly, the DOI worked closely with the states in preparing to announce more historic expansion under the Trump Administration, delivering on President Trump’s push to make increasing public access a priority.
A Word about SOI David Bernhardt
Purpose-driven and committed to the job, the 53rd SOI David Bernhardt is making progress for sportsmen and wildlife alike. I had the opportunity to interview him recently for the May issues of American Hunter and American Rifleman, set to hit readers’ mailboxes in two weeks. Be sure to read our Q&A session as this lifelong hunter shares his belief in American hunters’ mission to pass down our values and outdoor lifestyle to future generations while serving as protectors of wildlife and advocates for regulated, science-based wildlife management.
As we all seek something to look forward to, particularly as we get through the coronavirus pandemic, the interview reveals that many good things are yet to come for sportsmen under the Trump Administration. SOI Bernhardt shared that not only is President Donald Trump restoring President Theodore Roosevelt’s “American sportsmen conservation ethic” by which public lands are maintained for the benefit of the American people, but he is demonstrating his belief that government should serve the people. The fact that the biggest public lands package was put forth under this President’s watch speaks volumes.
About the Author
Karen Mehall Phillips is the director of communications for the NRA Hunters’ Leadership Forum and senior editor of NRA’s American Hunter. An avid rifle and bow hunter, she has hunted for 30 years and in 29 states, Canada, Italy, Finland, Germany, Spain, New Zealand, Greenland and Africa, including for two of the Big Five.
Karen draws on her experience to educate non-hunters on the critical role that hunters play in wildlife conservation worldwide and to inform them of the dangers anti-hunting extremists present to the future of wildlife conservation. She is invested in fighting America's culture war on hunters and hunting and works to shed light on anti-hunters’ blatant attempts to tout emotion and misinformation over scientific facts.
An NRA Endowment member, Karen worked in the NRA public relations arena prior to joining NRA Publications in 1998. She is the founding editor of two NRA official journals: America's 1st Freedom and Woman's Outlook. National writing awards include being named the 2015 Carl Zeiss Sports Optics Writer of the Year. She actively promotes women and families in the outdoors. She is also a member of the Washington metropolitan area's Fairfax Rod & Gun Club, a founding member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association, a member of Safari Club International and a Life member of the Dallas Safari Club and the Mule Deer Foundation.
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