August 19, 2020
By Lynn Burkhead
It’s been a run of good news for hunters and anglers this month, even if the COVID-19 pandemic news tries to divert attention away from the multiple reasons to smile right now.
One of those reasons came Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020, in an announcement less than two weeks after President Donald J. Trump signed the Great American Outdoors Act into law.
The Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020 news came from U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt, who announced an increase of public land recreational access that will open up and/or expand 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 increases the number of units open to hunting in the NWR System to 430 and those open to fishing to 360. It also increases the total of NFH 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 U.S. 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 the move is well-received in the outdoors world.
Especially when considering that in addition to Tuesday's announcement, the Trump Administration had a similar expansion of 1.4 million acres of existing or newly opened lands for hunting and fishing opportunities last year. All told, the President’s total expansion of hunting and fishing opportunities is 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 1," 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 Tuesday’s announcement include opening migratory bird, upland bird, big-game hunting, and sportfishing 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 sportfishing 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 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. Sportfishing also will 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, visit the Fish and Wildlife Service’s PDF list and map detailing such moves.
For a complete look at NWR lands open to hunting, see the Fish and Wildlife Service’s map. For a look at all of the NWR lands open to fishing, see the Service’s map for that recreational pursuit.
With a variety of news releases coming out on Tuesday afternoon supporting the Trump Administration’s announcement, here’s a sampling of reaction from around the outdoors industry:
- "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."
- "Now, more than ever, Americans are desperate to get outside and enjoy all of the natural beauty our nation has to offer," said Ducks Unlimited CEO Adam Putnam. "This historic expansion of access to our public lands will provide increased opportunities for hunters, anglers, hikers and other outdoor recreation enthusiasts – or simply those who seek an outlet from being cooped up indoors these last few months. DU applauds this final rule by Secretary Bernhardt and Director Skipwith. We look forward to its swift implementation and to getting America back to nature for the best social distancing there is and the cheapest therapy available: the outdoors."
- "We sincerely appreciate the leadership of Secretary Bernhardt and the hard work of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Hunt/Fish teams to bring this rule to fruition," said Senior Vice President of Delta Waterfowl John Devney. "The 2020 Rule coupled with the work done in the last several years to increase access to our refuges, is making a significant difference to provide new hunting opportunities. We look forward to working with the Service to continue to focus on priority waterfowl refuges in the coming year to bring even more access to duck hunters across the country."
- "Providing an additional 2.3 million acres of new opportunities and access builds on the legacy of this Administration," said National Wild Turkey Federation CEO Becky Humphries. "Now more than ever this country needs places where we can go to practice responsible recreation. This effort ties directly to the NWTF’s hunter recruitment and retention efforts by reducing barriers to hunting."
- "Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever members look forward to the fall when we can enjoy the new upland bird hunting access created within the collective 2.3 million acres of newly opened public lands," said Howard K. Vincent, President and CEO of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. "We thank the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for creating and enhancing new areas for our members to recreate."
- "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."
- "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 USF&WS, the final rule will publish in the Federal Register and be available at www.regulations.gov, Docket Number: FWS-HQ-NWRS-2020-0013.