Rights of hunters should be protected
Sen. Roger Wicker

Published Monday, August 31, 2009

In Mississippi, hunting is both a time-honored tradition and a way of life for hundreds of thousands of residents. Like many states across the country, Mississippi is blessed with more than abundant wildlife. Sportsmen across our state also have access to publicly-owned hunting land that is second-to-none. There are approximately two million acres open to public hunting in Mississippi, a large portion of which is controlled by the federal government.

It was with that fact in mind that I recently cosponsored bipartisan legislation to help protect the rights of Mississippi’s sportsmen. The Hunting Heritage Protection Act aims to recognize the heritage of hunting in America and provide opportunities for continued hunting on federal public land in the future.

Hunting heritage protection act

The loss of hunting land has been one reason for the decline in hunting activity across our country. According to one estimate, America had 13 million hunters in 2008 compared to 14 million in 1996. To help reverse this trend, our legislation seeks to prevent the federal government from making public lands off-limits for hunting.

Specifically, the measure would require federal lands to be managed in a way that supports, enhances and promotes hunting opportunities. The bill calls on federal agencies managing federal lands to submit an annual report to Congress describing any limitation of access for hunting on federal lands. Additionally, those agencies would be required to submit prior written notification to Congress before any limitation affecting access to hunting on 5,000 acres or more becomes effective.

The Hunting Heritage Protection Act has garnered the support of some of the nation’s leading sportsmen’s advocate groups. Chris Cox of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action said our bill “is a vital step toward preserving our hunting heritage. Lack of access to hunting land is a major challenge hunters face and is also a major factor that causes many to give up hunting.” Barton James, director of public policy for Ducks Unlimited, said: “Waterfowlers have been supporting federal lands through duck stamp sales for 75 years, and we welcome this effort to ensure that hunting remains a part of America’s conservation legacy.”

Sportsmen’s economic impact

Beyond its cultural importance in Mississippi, hunting plays a significant part in our state’s economy. Keeping public lands open to hunters is an important way to keep our economy strong, particularly in small towns that rely on income from visiting sportsmen.

It is estimated that sportsmen spend $863 million annually in Mississippi, which breaks down to $2.3 million per day. According to the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, this revenue has helped create and maintain over 17,000 jobs in our state. Nationally, sportsmen contribute more than $76 billion to the U.S. economy each year, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The group also estimates that hunting is responsible for over 320,000 jobs in our country.

Protecting our heritage

I have worked hard in Congress to support the rights of sportsmen. As a member of the Congressional Sportsman’s Caucus, I have consistently stood up for the Second Amendment and other rights important to our ability to enjoy and preserve the outdoors.

The Hunting Heritage Protection Act is part of that effort. By passing this legislation, Congress can affirm the cultural importance of hunting in America while simultaneously ensuring suitable hunting opportunities are available to hunters in the years to come.

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker represents Mississippi. He can be reached at his Washington, D.C., Office

Please be sure to contact your reps and ask for their support.