Wildlife groups applaud expanded federal lands hunting, fishing access
By KELLY BOSTIAN
For the CCOF
The Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma this week joined the National Wildlife Federation in applauding federal efforts to expand hunting and fishing opportunities on federal public lands, which includes recent expansions at three Oklahoma wildlife refuges.
The Department of Interior announced Wednesday its plan to increase access for new or expanded opportunities across 2.1 million acres nationwide. The proposal also will codify expansions put in place in August 2020, which added hunting and fishing access in Oklahoma at the Sequoyah and Wichita Mountains national wildlife refuges and bowfishing at the Tishomingo refuge.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported the proposed rule marks the largest single expansion in history including the 2020 expansion, which was larger that the previous five expansions combined. The completed plan will open seven wildlife refuges that had been closed to hunting and fishing and expand hunting and fishing at 83 others. This proposal brings the total number of refuges available for hunting nationwide to 434 and the number available for fishing to 378. The rule also proposes to formally bring the total number of National Fish Hatchery System units open to hunting or sport fishing to 22.
“This is terrific news for hunters and anglers across the country. Over the past year, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in hunting and fishing as Americans seek to reconnect with the outdoors and put food on the table for their families during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Aaron Kindle, director of sporting advocacy at the National Wildlife Federation. “One of the best ways to retain and recruit new hunters and anglers is to increase opportunities to pursue those passions. This proposal will go a long way to strengthening our sporting traditions.”
“Oklahomans have strong outdoors traditions, which includes hunting and fishing opportunities on public lands,” said Krystina Phillips, CCO board president. “Data shows those opportunities on federal and state public lands provide significant economic benefits to the local communities and to the state as a whole, as well as offering healthy recreational options for families.”
Increasing access to public lands and waters is a central component of the Biden-Harris administration’s approach to conservation, including the efforts to conserve 30 percent of U.S lands and waters by 2030, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported.
“We are committed to ensuring Americans of all backgrounds have access to hunting and fishing and other recreational activities on our public lands,” said Service Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams. “Hunters and anglers are some of our most ardent conservationists and they play an important role in ensuring the future of diverse and healthy wildlife populations. Our lands have also provided a much-needed outlet to thousands during the pandemic and we hope these additional opportunities will provide a further connection with nature, recreation and enjoyment.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will take public comments on the proposed rule for 60 days, which began with its publication in the Federal Register on May 4. Comments may be submitted online at regulations.gov.
Kelly Bostian is a conservation communications professional working with the Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to education and outreach on conservation issues facing Oklahomans. To support Kelly’s work please consider making a tax deductible donation at https://www.oklahomaconservation.org