Kicking off this year’s hunting season and continuing efforts to increase recreational access on public lands, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said new hunting and fishing opportunities have been opened on more than 1.4 million acres nationwide.
This brings the number of units in the National Wildlife Refuge System where the public may hunt to 381, and the number where fishing will be permitted to 316. The expansion included is more than double the acreage that has been opened or expanded compared to the last 5 years combined.
Seventy-seven national wildlife refuges and 15 national fish hatcheries managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are incorporated in the new rule for lands now open to hunting and fishing for the first time, or have expanded opportunities for new game species.
“This is the largest single effort to expand hunting and fishing access in recent history,” Bernhardt said. “This new rule delivers 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.”
New refuge opportunities include opening sport fishing at Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Pennsylvania for the first time, opening of Minidoka National Wildlife Refuge in Idaho to elk hunting for the first time on lands already open to other hunting, and opening 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 to sport fishing.
An update to hatchery regulations is also included in the final rule covering the expansion, which outlines comprehensive revision and simplification of all refuge-specific hunting and fishing regulations. Revisions in all 50 states more closely match state regulations while continuing to ensure safe and compatible opportunities. The Service worked closely with the states in preparing the rule.
A copy of the final rule and a complete list of all of the refuges and hatcheries are available online.
Hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities contributed more than $156 billion in economic activity in communities across the United States in 2016, according to the Service’s National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, published every five years.
More than 101 million Americans — 40 percent of the U.S. population age 16 and older — pursue wildlife-related recreation, including hunting and fishing.