In another bit of good news for hunters and anglers, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke just announced plans to expand hunting and fishing opportunities at dozens of National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs) all over the United States.

If all goes as planned, these changes would open or increase outdoor recreation opportunities on more than 248,000 acres of land managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in time for the 2018-19 hunting season.

Refuges like Lake Woodruff NWR in Florida; Hackmatack NWR in Illinois; Umbagog NWR in Maine and New Hampshire; Swan River NWR in Montana; J. Clark Salyer and Lostwood NWRs in North Dakota; John Heinz NWR in Pennsylvania; the Cedar Point NWR in Ohio; and the Trempealeau NWR in Wisconsin would all be opened to certain forms of hunting for the first time.

Others, like Felsenthal NWR in Arkansas; San Pablo Bay NWR in California; Cypress Creek NWR in Illinois; Rachael Carson and Moosehorn NWRs in Maine; the Sevilleta NWR in New Mexico; William L Finley NWR in Oregon; and Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah would see expansion of existing hunting and/or fishing opportunities.

For the full list of proposed changes, read the official Department of the Interior press release.

All told, the proposal would improve hunting and fishing access at 30 National Wildlife Refuges in 22 different states.

If fully implemented, this plan would build on previous efforts by Secretary Zinke to expand outdoor recreation opportunities on federally managed public land and would result in some form of migratory bird, upland game, or big game hunting being permitted on 377 out of a total of 566 National Wildlife Refuges. By the same token, fishing would be allowed on 312 National Wildlife Refuges.

Additionally, the proposal would move to simplify hunting and fishing regulations on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service land to more closely match state hunting and fishing regulations.

Secretary Zinke had this to say about the proposal:

"As stewards of our public lands, Interior is committed to opening access wherever possible for hunting and fishing so that more families have the opportunity to pass down this American heritage. These 30 refuges will provide incredible opportunities for American sportsmen and women across the country to access the land and connect with wildlife."

Lack of access to a good place to hunt is currently one of the biggest obstacles to hunter recruitment and retention. While it’s certainly a step in the right direction, on an individual level, this expansion of outdoor recreation opportunities on USFWS land may not seem like a gigantic improvement on that problem.

However, taken in conjunction with previous work along these lines by the Department of the Interior and other state agencies (such as the recent expansion of the McFaddin NWR and Black Gap WMA in Texas), we’ve seen hundreds of thousands of acres of previously inaccessible land opened up for public access within the last year. Hopefully we’ll see more decisions like this one in the near future.