Days after President Donald Trump signed off on the landmark Great American Outdoors Act, the Administration continued its run of positive news destined to make outdoors enthusiasts smile.
That came in the form of a Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020 announcement when U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt announced an increase of recreational access on public lands that will involve opening and expansion of hunting and fishing opportunities on more than 2.3 million acres of land at 147 National Wildlife Refuges and National Fish Hatcheries.
The Trump Administration’s move also increases the number of units in the National Wildlife Refuge System open to hunting to 430 and those open to fishing to 360. It also increases the total of National Fish Hatchery System units open to hunting or fishing to 21.
Announced at the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge in Saginaw, Mich., the new rule from the Trump Administration is described as the single largest expansion of hunting and fishing opportunities in U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service history.
“On the heels of President Trump signing the most significant conservation and recreation funding in US history, providing nearly $20 billion over the next 10 years to fix and conserve the American people’s public lands, the Trump Administration has now made an additional 2.3 million acres accessible to new hunting and fishing opportunities,” said Bernhardt in a news release. “We continue to take significant actions to further conservation initiatives and support sportsmen and women who are America’s true conservationists.”
While some might question the President’s motives in the weeks leading up to the 2020 election — particularly with the announcement coming in a key battleground state — there’s little debate that the move is generally well received in the outdoors world.
Especially when one considers that in addition to yesterday’s announcement, the Trump Administration had a similar expansion of 1.4 million acres of expanded or newly opened lands for hunting and fishing opportunities last year. All told, yesterday’s rule proposal brings the President’s total expansion of hunting and fishing opportunities to just over 4 million acres nationwide according to the USFWS.
“The Trump Administration and Secretary Bernhardt have made access to public lands for hunting and fishing and other outdoor recreation a priority beginning day one,” said USFWS Director Aurelia Skipwith in the news release. “Hunting and fishing are a part of our American history, and we continue to ensure we provide opportunities for these activities which epitomize our American heritage.
“Furthermore, we have maintained our commitment to promoting good government by reducing the regulatory burden by working with states to facilitate these outdoor activities.”
Refuges impacted by yesterday’s announcement include opening migratory bird, upland bird, big game hunting, and sport fishing opportunities at Everglades Headwaters NWR in Florida. Upland bird and big game hunting opportunities will also be opened up at Bamforth NWR in Wyoming, while sport fishing opens for the first time at Canaan Valley NWR in West Virginia, joining the hunting opportunities that already exist there.
Refuges that will see expansion of outdoors recreation on their grounds include new big-game hunting acreage opening up at Willapa NWR in Washington and Balcones Canyonlands NWR in Texas. Upland bird hunters, migratory bird hunters, big game hunters, and sport fishermen will see new acreage opened at Northern Tallgrass Prairie NWR in Minnesota while new hunting season dates are added to current pheasant hunting opportunities at San Luis NWR in California.
Hatchery changes will include the opening up of lands to upland bird, migratory bird and big game hunting at the Jordan River NFH in Michigan as well as the Little White Salmon NFH in Washington. Sport Fishing will also formally open at the Berkshire NFH in Massachusetts.
To find a complete listing of refuges and hatcheries seeing expansion or first-time hunting and fishing opportunities opening up, please visit the Fish and Wildlife Service’s PDF list and map detailing such moves.
Reaction to the announcement was swift and enthusiastic from nearly all corners of the outdoors world. With various news releases trumpeting that support from across America, here’s a sampling of those remarks:
“Today’s final rule is welcome news to hunters and fishermen in Wyoming and across the country,” said Wyoming Senator John Barrasso. “In Wyoming, hunting and fishing are a huge part of our way of life. I’m pleased we will now have expanded recreation access at a time where socially distant outdoor activities like hunting and fishing are more important than ever.”
“The American public needs outdoor recreation opportunities for their physical and mental well-being more than ever,” said Secretary of South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks and President of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Kelly Hepler. “By practicing responsible recreation, Americans can enjoy these new opportunities to get outside to enjoy the lands and waters, and fish and wildlife resources, of our great nation.”
“Today’s announcement exemplifies the optimism and excitement that our industry members share regarding the future of hunting participation across this country,” said Vice President and Chief Conservation Officer for the Archery Trade Association Dan Forster. “Improving access for outdoor enthusiasts is a critical component to ensuring a bright future for our industry and our hunting and fishing constituency. This unprecedented expansion of hunting and fishing opportunities by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is a monumental and refreshing achievement and we applaud Secretary Bernhardt and his team for their continued and strong leadership supporting hunters and anglers across the United States.”
“The National Wildlife Refuge System is an unparalleled network of public lands and waters that are critically important to sportsmen and women by providing 2.4 million hunting visits and 7.1 million fishing visits annually,” said Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation President Jeff Crane. “This expansion, which will be the single largest expansion of hunting and fishing opportunities in the history of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, clearly demonstrates Secretary Bernhardt’s commitment to sportsmen and women.”
“No one in modern history has done more than the Trump Administration to provide America's sportsmen and women with greater opportunities to enjoy the outdoors,” said the National Rifle Association’s Director of the Hunters’ Leadership Forum Erica Tergeson. “This rule is just another example of the commonsense actions that can make hunting and fishing more accessible to all Americans. Secretary Bernhardt and Director Skipwith continue to show their dedication to hunters and wildlife conservation.”
“Through this rule, refuges like Fallon National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada will allow mule deer hunting for the first time,” said Mule Deer Foundation President/CEO Miles Moretti. “We appreciate the work of Secretary Bernhardt and Director Skipwith and the staff of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for their continued work supporting new opportunities for big game hunting within the National Wildlife Refuge System.”
“We commend the Trump Administration and Secretary Bernhardt for proposing the single largest expansion of hunting and fishing opportunities in history,” said W. Laird Hamberlin, CEO of Safari Club International. “This monumental step will increase access to our country’s unmatched public lands for hunters and anglers alike. America’s sporting heritage plays a vital role in many states’ economies, and hunters are the single largest source of funding for their conservation efforts. Outdoor recreational access is important now more than ever, so hunters across the nation have every reason to be thankful to this Administration for prioritizing this unprecedented expansion of opportunity for sportsmen and women.”
According to the USFWS, the final rule will publish in the Federal Register and be available at http://www.regulations.gov — Docket Number: FWS-HQ-NWRS-2020-0013.