U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service Widely Expands Public Hunting And Fishing Access

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There are A LOT of things that could be said about the federal government, good, bad or indifferent.

One thing that should be celebrated by folks on both sides of the political aisle though is the commitment the U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service has made in recent years to expanding hunting and fishing access and opportunities on public land.

Hunting and fishing are deeply woven into the cultural fabric of America, and our nation’s wild places and wild things are truly global treasures. America also boasts some of the very best hunting and fishing opportunities in the entire world, thanks to a system of conservation that places a monetary value on hunting and fishing and applies those funds to sustainable conservation efforts.

Continuing the Department of the Interior’s efforts to increase hunting and fishing access on public lands, which began under the previous administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service just recently proposed an expansion of hunting and sport fishing opportunities for game species across 2.1 million acres at 90 national wildlife refuges.

“We are committed to ensuring Americans of all backgrounds have access to hunting and fishing and other recreational activities on our public lands,” said USFWS Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams.

“Hunters and anglers are some of our most ardent conservationists and they play an important role in ensuring the future of diverse and healthy wildlife populations. Our lands have also provided a much-needed outlet to thousands during the pandemic and we hope these additional opportunities will provide further connection with nature, recreation and enjoyment.”

According to the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities contributed more than $156 billion in economic activity in communities across the United States in 2016. Those numbers are expected be considerably larger when updated for 2021, as the report is revised every 5 years.

The National Wildlife Refuge System is an unparalleled network of 567 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts. There is a national wildlife refuge within an hour’s drive of most major metropolitan areas. The Refuge System receives more than 59 million annual visits. National wildlife refuges provide vital habitat for thousands of species and access to world-class recreation, from fishing, hunting and paddling to nature watching, photography and environmental education.

The most recent proposal would bring the number of units in the Refuge System where the public may hunt to 434 and the number where fishing will be permitted to 378. The rule also proposes to formally bring the total number of National Fish Hatchery System units open to hunting or sport fishing to 22.

Hunting on National Wildlife Refuges can be a controversial issue, with social media frenzies often erupting about hunting being permitted on land that should be “refuge” for wildlife.

So much so that the USFWS even has an official statement on their website addressing the topic.

“National wildlife refuges exist primarily to safeguard wildlife populations through habitat preservation. The word “refuge” includes the idea of providing a haven of safety for wildlife, and as such, hunting might seem an inconsistent use of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

However, habitat that normally supports healthy wildlife populations produces harvestable surpluses that are a renewable resource.

As practiced on refuges, hunting does not pose a threat to the wildlife populations – and in some instances it is necessary for sound wildlife management. For example, deer populations will often grow too large for the refuge habitat to support.

If some deer are not harvested, they destroy habitat for themselves and other animals and die from starvation or disease. The harvesting of wildlife on refuges is carefully regulated to ensure equilibrium between population levels and wildlife habitat.

The decision to permit hunting on national wildlife refuges is made on a case-by-case basis. Considerations include biological soundness, economic feasibility, effects on other refuge programs and public demand.”

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