Department of Interior proposes increasing public access to hunting and fishing on 1.4 million acres nationwide

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Interior Secretary David Bernhardt helps a young angler to hook a fish while wetting a line at the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge on June 5. Bernhardt was on hand to announce new hunting and fishing opportunities at America’s national wildlife refuges, including the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt on Wednesday, June 5, announced from the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge on the Lake Erie shoreline in Oak Harbor a proposal for new or expanded hunting and fishing opportunities at 74 national wildlife refuges and 15 national fish hatcheries. The areas are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and affect more than 1.4 million acres.

“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 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.”

The proposal would increase the number of units in the Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System where the public may hunt from 377 to 382, and the number where fishing would be permitted would be increased from 312 to 316.

The proposal would also formally open lands on 15 hatcheries of the National Fish Hatchery System to hunting or sport fishing for the first time.

The following are proposed new or expanded hunting and/or sport fishing opportunities at stations in the state of Ohio:

Cedar Point National Wildlife Refuge: Expand existing sport fishing to new areas.

Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge: Expand existing sport fishing to new areas.

The proposal also outlines a comprehensive revision and simplification of all refuge-specific hunting and fishing regulations in all 50 states to more closely match state regulations while continuing to ensure safe and compatible opportunities. The Service worked closely with the states in preparing the proposed rule.

“Well-managed hunting and fishing are the backbone of conservation in this country, but inconsistent or overly complex regulations can act as a disincentive,” said Service Principal Deputy Director Margaret Everson. “By aligning our refuge regulations with our state partners, we are reducing confusion and the regulatory burden on the American public, helping ensure the tradition and benefits of hunting and fishing can continue.”

Hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities contributed more than $156 billion in economic activity to communities across the United States in 2016, according to the Service’s National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, which is published every five years. More than 101 million Americans — 40% of the U.S. population age 16 and older — pursue wildlife-related recreation, including hunting and fishing.

“The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies is delighted by this announcement of a continuing commitment by the Department of the Interior to expanded access for regulated hunting and angling, on National Wildlife Refuges, in partnership with state fish and wildlife agencies,” said Ed Carter, President of the Association and Executive Director of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.“We need to get people outside to enjoy the lands and waters, and the fish and wildlife resources, of our great nation. This is an important step in that direction.”

“The announcement today by Secretary Bernhardt is incredibly welcome news and builds off great progress in increasing access to refuge lands the last two years,” said John Devney, Senior Vice President of Delta Waterfowl. “Duck hunters have been leaders in investing in the refuge system. This action will provide them with new access and opportunities.”

“The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation applauds efforts to expand hunting and fishing opportunities within the National Wildlife Refuge System,” said Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation President Jeff Crane. “This announcement builds off momentum generated over the last few years, and advances recent recommendations submitted by the Hunting and Shooting Sports Conservation Council to increase hunter and angler access to federal lands and waters, including the Refuge System.”

The Service will seek comments from the public on the proposed rule for 45 days, beginning with publication in the Federal Register in coming days. The notice will be available at http://www.regulations.gov, Docket Number: FWS-HQ-NWRS-2019-0040, and will include details on how to submit comments. The Service intends to finalize the proposed changes in time for the 2019-2020 hunting seasons. An interim copy of the proposed rule is now available.

A complete list of all refuges and hatcheries included in the proposal is available in the proposed rule and online.

For more than 145 years, the National Fish Hatchery System has worked collaboratively with tribes, states, landowners, partners and stakeholders to promote and maintain healthy, self-sustaining populations of fish and other aquatic species. There are 70 national fish hatcheries visited by more than two million people each year. Hatcheries offer opportunities for viewing the operations and learning about fish, as well as activities such as fishing, hunting, hiking, sightseeing, nature study, birdwatching and photography.

The 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.

More than 55 million Americans visit refuges every year. National wildlife refuges provide vital habitat for thousands of species and access to world-class recreation, from fishing, hunting and boating to nature watching, photography and environmental education.

Under the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, the Service permits hunting and fishing along with four other types of wildlife-dependent recreation, including wildlife photography, environmental education, wildlife observation and interpretation, when they are compatible with an individual refuge’s purpose and mission.

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