U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt proposed yesterday the single largest expansion of hunting and fishing opportunities by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in history. If enacted, Bernhardt’s rule change would open more than 2.3 million acres of public land at 97 national wildlife refuges and nine national fish hatcheries.
As an opportunity to hunt or fish is defined by the USFWS as one species on one field station in one state, the proposed rule would create nearly 900 distinct new hunting and fishing opportunities. This enormous expansion of public land for public use would pile atop the 1.4 million acres of new or expanded hunting and fishing opportunities added in 2019. All told, the proposal would bring the Trump administration’s total expansion of public hunting and fishing opportunities to 4 million acres nationwide in only three years.
“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,” said Bernhardt. “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.”
Said USFWS Director Aurelia Skipwith: “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. 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.”
“This is a truly historic expansion and wonderful news for America’s sportsmen and women,” said Erica Tergeson, director of hunting policy, National Rifle Association 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 5 million members, we wholeheartedly thank Secretary Bernhardt and Director Skipwith.”
Interior intends to finalize the proposed changes in time for 2020-21 hunting seasons. Beginning with publication in the Federal Register on April 9, 2020, USFWS will seek public comment for 60 days. The notice is available at regulations.gov—Docket Number FWS-HQ-NWRS-2020-0013—and includes details on submitting comments. A complete list of all refuges and hatcheries in the proposal is available in the proposed rule. View an online list and map.
The National Wildlife Refuge System is an unparalleled network of vital habitat benefitting thousands of species that also provides access to world-class recreation including hunting, fishing, nature watching and photography, to name just a few activities. In fact there is a national wildlife refuge (NWR) within an hour’s drive of most metropolitan areas. The system’s 568 refuges and 38 wetland management districts receive more than 59 million visits annually. More than 1 million people each year visit 70 national fish hatcheries (NFH) that provide opportunities for fishing, hunting, hiking, nature watching and more.
Acceptance of the proposal would bring the number of units in the National Wildlife Refuge System open to public hunting to 399 and the number where fishing is permitted to 331. Additionally, the rule proposes to formally open lands on nine units of the National Fish Hatchery System to hunting or sport fishing.
The list of expansions and first-ever openings across the country seemingly contains something for just about every American.
In California, existing season dates for pheasant hunting at San Luis NWR would expand. In Florida, migratory bird, upland and big-game hunting, along with sport fishing, would be opened for the first time at the Everglades Headwaters NWR. Massachusetts’ Berkshire NFH would formally open lands to sport fishing for the first time. Michigan’s Jordan River NFH would formally open to migratory bird, upland and big-game hunting. In Minnesota’s Northern Tallgrass Prairie NWR, existing migratory bird, upland and big-game hunting—and sport fishing—would expand to new acres. Texas’ Balcones Canyonlands NWR would expand big-game hunting. Washington’s Willapa NWR would expand existing big-game hunting; the state’s Little White Salmon NFH would formally open lands for the first time for migratory bird, upland and big-game hunting. West Virginia’s Canaan Valley NWR would open to sport fishing for the first time, and would expand existing migratory bird, upland and big-game hunting. Wyoming’s Bamforth NWR would open for the first time for upland and big-game hunting.
Interior worked closely with states to prepare the proposed rule change. In doing so, this year’s rule intends to build on last year’s rules adaptations to continue to revise federal refuge hunting and fishing regulations so they more closely match state regulations where a refuge is located. The proposal also ensures that whenever refuge regulations depart from state rules, for reasons of safety and conservation, such extra regulations are consistent across all federal refuges in a given state.
To anyone who has screamed to “keep public lands in public hands,” this announcement should be seen as nothing short of extraordinary. Contrary to claims he wants to give away our land President Donald J. Trump has instead increased access for hunters and anglers on 4 million acres in only three years.