The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has joined the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and 17 other public and private partners in signing a Memorandum of Understanding dedicated to improving and maintaining access to public lands for hunters and anglers.
"This is an important effort for our nation’s sportsmen and women," said Service Director Steve Williams. "There are some locations in the United States where the Federal government is the single largest land owner. Public access is critical to allow hunters and anglers to fulfill their vital role in responsible management of our fish and wildlife resources."
The memorandum noted that "some hunters and anglers are reporting that problems with access have taken away from their enjoyment of hunting and fishing," and the agreement seeks to establish a general framework for cooperation between government agencies and private organizations to improve access on Federally-managed public lands for hunters and anglers.
Williams said hunting and recreational fishing account for $70 billion in spending in the U.S. each year, and state fish and game agencies depend on the sale of hunting and fishing licenses for a significant share of their budget. Additionally, both sports directly or indirectly result in the employment of thousands of people across the country in either manufacturing or retail outlets or service facilities, such as marinas, hotels and motels and restaurants.
Williams said he has made improved access to Service lands where hunting and fishing are already permitted, one of his personal priorities. "Hunters and anglers are some of America’s greatest conservationists," Williams said. "They are conscientious about the land and the water. When they are in the field, they can help us see things that we need to know about. We need to make them feel as welcome as we can."
For the new season, the Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed 315 hunting programs and 274 fishing programs on Service National Wildlife Refuges.
Under the agreement, private organizations agree to encourage local chapters and affiliated organizations to contact and meet with appropriate agencies’ field offices and to participate in agency land use planning efforts, when plans are open for comment; encourage local chapters and affiliated organizations to provide leadership, services and materials for the maintenance of roads, trails and access points on public lands; inform the agencies of potential grant opportunities that might provide sources of funding for hunting or angling access related projects; provide technology and support to improve the delivery of information about hunting and angling access and offer support to facilitate the acquisition of easements for roads and trails across private lands that are necessary to improve access to public lands.
Besides the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, partners to the agreement include the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the American Sportfishing Association, Boone and Crockett Club, Bowhunting Preservation Alliance, International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, National Rifle Association, National Shooting Sports Foundation, National Wild Turkey Federation, Pheasants Forever, Pope and Young Club, Public Lands Foundation, Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, SCI – First for Hunters, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and the Wildlife Management Institute.