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  1. Opinion

How Florida’s anglers and hunters fund conservation | Column

Floridians can cultivate a new generation of hunters, anglers and conservationists to secure the future of wildlife conservation, writes the U.S. secretary of the Interior.

President Donald Trump knows that America’s anglers and hunters are some of our greatest conservationists. Through their passion, concern and spending, they care for our special natural places and provide for our fish and wildlife. For more than 70 years, funds generated through fishing and hunting equipment and fuel purchases have facilitated the conservation of fish and wildlife habitat programs carried out by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the United States Department of the Interior.

This program funded by fees from anglers and hunters, and other programs such as the Federal Duck Stamp Program, are centerpieces for wildlife conservation. They also establish a foundation to ensure public access to angling and hunting opportunities to Americans from all walks of life. Yet, most outside of the hunting and fishing community likely have little knowledge of these programs or the billions of dollars they have contributed to our conservation efforts.

David L. Bernhardt serves as the 53rdUnited States Secretary of the Interior. [ Courtesy of U.S. Department of the Interior ]

Established in 1937, the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act—also referred to as the Pittman-Robertson Act—provides federal aid to states for projects that include acquisition and improvement of wildlife habitat and public facilities; introduction of wildlife; wildlife research, surveys and inventories; hunter education; and public target ranges. The grants are funded from an excise tax on firearms, ammunition, and bows and arrows.

On a similar note, the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act—or the Dingell-Johnson Act—was established in 1950 and authorizes federal assistance for the acquisition and improvement of sport fish habitat, the stocking of and research on sport fish, the use of surveys and inventories, and education programs and public facilities. In many cases, the funding from these programs is matched by dollars from state and local partners, as well as conservation organizations.

In recent years, more than 101 million Americans—a staggering 40 percent of the U.S. population—have participated in some form of fishing, hunting, or other wildlife-associated recreation, myself included. Together, we have spent billions of dollars on equipment, travel, licenses, and fees. These expenditures represent one percent of the nation’s gross domestic product—creating and supporting thousands of jobs and communities across the nation. Through these landmark programs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service distributes nearly $1 billion per year in dedicated funding for conservation efforts to all 50 states and U.S. territories.

Florida benefits significantly through this economic cycle due to its enormous tourism and recreation industries. The Sunshine State is No. 1 in non-resident fishing licenses issued and in the top five states in terms of resident fishing licenses sold; number one in the nation in saltwater anglers (2.4 million), generating $8 billion annually and supporting 114,898 jobs; and third in the nation in the number of registered boats (more than 900,000).

Much of Florida’s recreation economy also relies on the work associated with restoring the Everglades ecosystem. The Trump Administration has worked closely with Gov. Ron DeSantis to ensure that Everglades Restoration receives the federal resources necessary to positively impact Florida’s estuaries and waterways, requesting $250 million in funding for the fiscal year 2021 budget.

Over the years, Florida has also received more than $500 million in Wildlife and Sport Restoration Funding, including $23.9 million this year, and has used the funding to operate fish hatcheries to grow and stock game fish, and expand thousands of wildlife management areas, shooting ranges, boat ramps, and outdoor recreation programs for millions of their residents—complementing initiatives by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other Federal agencies on public and private land alike.

Under President Trump’s leadership, we have expanded hunting and fishing access to the American people on our public lands and waterways. Recently, we announced a historic proposal for new and expanded hunting and fishing opportunities across more than 2.3 million acres at 97 national wildlife refuges and 9 national fish hatcheries. This is the single largest expansion of hunting and fishing opportunities by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in history, and it follows last year’s expansion of 1.4 million acres for new or expanded opportunities—bringing the Trump Administration’s total expansion to 4 million acres nationwide.

That is great news for hunters and anglers. Working together, we can cultivate a new generation of hunters, anglers and conservationists to secure the future of wildlife conservation in America. It starts in places like Florida, with a family fishing trip, an afternoon spent on the water, or a spring morning hunt. We are proud to continue to support conservation, the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Programs, and the memories made with family and friends outdoors.

David L. Bernhardt serves as the 53rd U.S. Secretary of the Interior.

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