U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service Expands Hunting And Fishing Opportunities On 2.1 Million Acres

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Earlier this week, the Department of the Interior officially announced the expansion of hunting and fishing opportunities on an additional 2.1 million acres of public land and water as part of the America the Beautiful initiative, which is a nationwide effort to conserve, connect, and restore at least 30 percent of our nation’s land and waters by 2030.

A proposal for the expansion was announced in May and official approval of the rule changes was announced earlier today.

In terms of acreage and opportunities, it is one the largest expansions of outdoor recreation opportunities in recent history, and includes 88 National Wildlife Refuges and a National Fish Hatchery.

Implementation of this proposal is something that Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland is excited to see to come to fruition.

“Increasing access to outdoor recreation opportunities is essential to advancing the Administration’s commitment to the conservation stewardship of our public lands.

Responsible hunting and fishing helps to promote healthy wildlife habitats while boosting local recreation economies.”

Martha Williams, the Deputy Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service echoed those same sentiments.

“Today’s announcement furthers a rich tradition of providing quality outdoor recreation experiences to the American people on our public lands.

By expanding these opportunities, we are enhancing the lives of millions of Americans while stimulating the national economy to which hunting and fishing contribute significantly.”

The new opportunities and openings are in line with initiatives started by the Trump Administration, who implemented the historic expansion of hunting and fishing opportunities on 2.3 million acres at nearly 150 refuges and hatcheries.

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 and such a notable expansion of public land available for hunting and fishing are sure to boost those numbers even further.

The National Wildlife Refuge System was established by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1903 when he founded the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge off the coast of Florida. Since then the system has expanded from that one unit to an unparalleled network of 567 individual national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts.

There is a national wildlife refuge within no more than roughly an hour’s drive from most major metropolitan areas. The Refuge System receives more than 59 million annual visitors and also provides vital habitat for thousands of species and access to world-class recreation like fishing, hunting,  paddling, nature photography and also offers environmental education programs.

Thanks to today’s update, 910 different hunting and fishing opportunities will be available in new areas (an opportunity is defined by specific species in specific areas). Hunting is now permitted on 434 different National Wildlife Refuges and fishing is now allowed on 378 of them. More information on finding a refuge or hatchery to visit can be found online.

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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