Commentary: Increasing access to hunting, fishing and recreation

Millions of Americans from all walks of life have grown up hunting and angling, hiking in the woods, canoeing or kayaking, or birdwatching with their parents and grandparents, and in turn have passed that legacy on to their kids and grandkids.

Our enduring passion for wildlife and wild places, and the lengths to which we go to pursue that passion, are reflected in a new report released today – the preliminary findings of the 2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation.

From when it was first conducted in 1955 – and every five years since – this report has provided a snapshot of our love affair with hunting, fishing and the outdoors.

The preliminary 2016 survey contains good news for everyone who cares about the health of our wildlife, natural places, and people.

In 2016, more than 101 million Americans –40 percent of the population – participated in some form of fishing, hunting or other wildlife-associated recreation. And in doing so, we spent an estimated $156.3 billion on equipment, travel, licenses and fees.That’s about ten times the revenue generated globally by the music sales industry. In fact, if wildlife-related recreation were a country, it would be in the top 60 globally for gross domestic product.

These findings are not just good news for the nation’s economy. A growing body of scientific research suggests that we’re all healthier, happier, and better off in multiple ways when we spend time outdoors connecting with nature.

In addition, revenues from the sale of licenses and tags, as well as excise taxes paid by hunters, anglers and shooters, continue to fund vital wildlife and habitat conservation efforts in every state and U.S. territory. Many National Wildlife Refuges and other federal, state and local public lands were purchased and restored using funds provided by sportsmen. So even if you’ve never hunted or fished, chances are you’ve still enjoyed wildlife and public lands conserved with the support of hunters and anglers.

It’s vital that we find ways to connect new generations with these pursuits, because they’re not just part of who we are individually. They constitute the very foundations of the healthy lands and waters that sustain healthy societies.

Working with the nation’s leading wildlife conservation and outdoor recreation groups, as well as our state partners, we are looking for ways to increase hunting, fishing and recreational boating opportunities and access on public and private lands for all Americans.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has made it clear that increasing access to public lands is a priority. He signed an order on his first day in office to begin the process of expanding hunting and fishing opportunities on public lands and more recently announced the proposal to expand of hunting and fishing opportunities at 10 refuges.

In addition, Secretary Zinke recently made recommendations to President Trump on 27 national monuments that call for changes to some that, while still protecting the land, would also protect and expand public access to that land for citizens who want to hunt, fish, hike, and experience the joy and beauty of these special places.

The 566 units of the National Wildlife Refuge System are the hub of our strategy, along with our National Fish Hatchery System, the National Park System, and other federal and state lands nationwide. With our partners, we’re working to connect families and kids with nearby hunting and fishing opportunities and to link them with experienced mentors who can help them learn to hunt and fish.

You can do your part too when you drop a line in the water or take friends and family out on their first hunt. You’ll find a deeper connection with both nature and people, and at the same time help support vital conservation work across the nation. VisitRecreation.govto find places to hunt, fish, boat or just watch wildlife.

I hope you and your family can join us on the water this summer and in the field this fall.

David Bernhardt is deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.