Nine hundred and thirty nine brand-spickety-new hunting and fishing opportunities will open to Americans if a proposal from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is approved. In this context, an "opportunity" is one target species at one field station. The proposal includes 90 national wildlife refuges and a national fish hatchery—2.1 million acres of public ground previously limited or unavailable for sporting pursuits.
“We are committed to ensuring Americans of all backgrounds have access to hunting and fishing and other recreational activities on our public lands,” said Martha Williams, USFWS principal deputy director and former director of Montana FWP. “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.”
Those outdoors options include diverse options from the first-ever turkey hunt on the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge; duck, upland, and deer hunting on the Neches River NWR in Texas; waterfowl in Featherstone NWR in Virginia; to the formal opening of sport fishing around the Green Lake National Fish Hatchery in Maine.
This action by the Biden Administration continues the trend of USFWS opening more and more refuge areas for hunting and fishing in recent years. In 2020, the Trump Administration opened or expanded hunting and fishing on 2.3 million acres at 138 refuges and nine hatcheries, creating 850 new opportunities. If approved, this current proposal will bring the total number of units in the National Wildlife Refuge System open to hunting to 434 and the number where fishing is permitted to 378. President Biden has stated his goal to conserve 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030.
The first national wildlife refuge, Pelican Island in Florida, was designated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903. The network has since expanded to 568 refuges and 38 wetland districts that cover 150 million acres across nearly every wild ecosystem in all 50 states. The agency estimates that they receive 61 million visits per year.
The USFWS hopes to codify the new rules prior to the 2021-’22 hunting season. The proposal was posted to the federal register on May 4 and is open for public comment for 60 days, ending on July 3. You can comment on the proposal here.