In what the Department of the Interior called a major expansion of hunting and fishing access, the White House announced plans this week to open hunting and fishing access on 74 national wildlife refuges and 15 national fish hatcheries; in total, roughly 1.4 million acres of public lands will be affected.
“President Trump is committed to expanding public access on public lands, and this proposal is executing on that directive by opening and increasing more access to hunting and fishing by the Fish and Wildlife Service at more stations and across more acres than ever before,” said Secretary Bernhardt. “Hunting and fishing are more than just traditional pastimes as they are also vital to the conservation of our lands and waters, our outdoor recreation economy, and our American way of life. These refuges and hatcheries provide incredible opportunities for sportsmen and women and their families across the country to pass on a fishing and hunting heritage to future generations and connect with wildlife.”
Interior wants to slacken the reins of federal oversight over wildlife refuges, allowing state agencies more control over the regulations governing hunting and fishing, unless the state attempts to enact rules that conflict with federal rules.
The proposed changes, a full list of which can be read here, are a mix of expanding current hunting and fishing opportunities in refuges and opening some lands to hunting and fishing for the first time.
While it may seem strange that hunting and fishing are allowed at all in wildlife refuges, the US Fish and Wildlife Service monitors hunting and fishing on many wildlife refuges as a means of ecosystem and sustainable wildlife management as well as recreation access.
The USFWS will seek public comments for 45 days and hopes to have expansion locked into place by the beginnng of the 2019/2020 hunting season.
The official notice will be available at http://www.regulations.gov, Docket Number: FWS-HQ-NWRS-2019-0040. The notice includes details for comment submission.