What was announced in June 2019 is now official. The Department of Interior (DOI) confirmed that America’s hunters and anglers will have expanded public access opportunities at 77 National Wildlife Refuges and 15 National Fish Hatcheries.
“This is the largest single effort to expand hunting and fishing access in recent history,” said DOI Secretary David Bernhardt. “President Trump has made increasing public access and streamlining government functions priorities of his administration, and this new rule delivers on both fronts given the unprecedented expansion of public acreage and removal or revision of 5,000 hunting and fishing regulations to more closely match state laws. This is a big win for sportsmen and sportswomen across the country and our collective conservation efforts.”
This action will now bring the number of units in the Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System where the public may hunt to 381 and the number where fishing will be permitted to 316. In addition, this will formally open lands on 15 hatcheries of the National Fish Hatchery System to hunting and/or fishing for the first time.
“The Interior Department’s actions to significantly increase access for hunters and anglers at the nation’s refuges and hatcheries are critical for wildlife management and ensuring Americans have ample opportunities to enjoy these time honored traditions,” said Kyle Weaver, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation president and CEO. “RMEF thanks Secretary Bernhardt for his commitment to improving and increasing public access to public lands for sportsmen and women.”
New refuge opportunities include the opening of sport fishing at Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Pennsylvania for the first time, the opening of Minidoka National Wildlife Refuge in Idaho to elk hunting for the first time on lands already open to other hunting, and the opening of Hutton Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Wyoming to migratory bird game hunting for the first time.
Expansions of refuge opportunities include at Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama and Mississippi, the expansion of season dates for existing migratory game bird hunting to align with state seasons, the opening of coot, crane and tundra swan hunting on acres already open to other hunting at Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Montana, and the expansion of existing sport fishing to new areas at Cedar Point National Wildlife Refuge in Ohio.
Final changes at hatcheries include the formal opening of lands on Dexter National Fish Hatchery in New Mexico to migratory game bird and upland game hunting, and Edenton National Fish Hatchery in North Carolina and Valley City National Fish Hatchery in North Dakota will formally open their lands to sport fishing. An update to hatchery regulations is also included in the final rule.
(Photo source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)