President Trump isn’t much of an outdoorsman, aside from golf.
But maybe more than any president since Teddy Roosevelt, he understands the importance of others getting outside to boat, hunt, fish, shoot, and hike and their demands for access to federal lands and waterways.
“He’s basically said, ‘Git-R-Done,’” said Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who is spearheading the opening of 1.4 million acres and elimination of 7,500 regulations limiting access.
“The president fundamentally gets that hunters and anglers are the true conservationists in our society. He understands that history and that we need to act in efforts to expand hunting and fishing while at the same time being respectful of private land rights, respectful of state law,” added Bernhardt.
The campaign to open access to the outdoors is a personal one for Bernhardt. In an interview, he said that living next to federal land as a kid in western Colorado helped shaped his life.
“Having those opportunities to succeed and fail made me more confident and made me more willing to accept challenges,” said Bernhardt. “If I lived somewhere where my parents had to drive 300 miles for me to hunt or fish, it wouldn’t have happened at all, though that might have been a lot better for my grades.”
When he had young children in his first tour at Interior under former President George W. Bush, then-Secretary Dirk Kempthorne advised him to get a boat.
“He said, ‘You need to get a boat. The great thing about a boat, if you get your kids on one, even if they are with their friends, they’re stuck with you,’” Bernhardt recalled. And now, he added, his kids are hooked on the outdoors. “Exposure matters,” said the secretary, whose office sports a huge moose skull and antlers from an Alaska hunt.
First under former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and now as the nation’s top outdoorsman, Bernhardt has been implementing rules to expand access at lightning speed.
As part of that effort, Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service established 10 “hunting and fishing chiefs” that have scoured every single federal property to find opportunities to expand access.
This month, Bernhardt announced a proposal to open 1.4 million more acres to hunting and fishing at 74 national wildlife refuges and 15 national fish hatcheries. After a public comment period, he hopes to have the land open in time for the September dove season.
“The biggest reason people don’t start or don’t stay hunting or fishing is largely the access to areas,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of opportunity to expand access.”
Part of the effort also aims at harmonizing federal and state hunting and fishing regulations, commonly a complex maze. “You’ve got to be a lawyer to figure out if you can hunt or can’t hunt,” said Bernhardt, a former board member on the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
Wildlife conservation groups are buzzing about the new access.
“This announcement will benefit America’s sportsmen and -women by providing access to prime hunting and fishing areas,” said Christy Plumer, chief conservation officer for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
“We are glad to see that recreational public access was identified as a top priority,” said Howard Vincent, president and CEO of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever.
In Ohio, where federal lands were opened for turkey season, one hunter offered the prized trophies of his first bird as a symbol of the expanded access.