Sec. Bernhardt: ‘More Access to Hunting and Fishing to Come’

Sec. David Bernhardt, right, of the U.S. Dept. of the Interior talks about hunter recruitment and access with Paul Wait of Delta Waterfowl at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas. Alex Heiser/Delta Waterfowl

The hunting and shooting sports industry comes together each winter for SHOT Show, a massive trade show attended annually by more than 60,000 folks. At this year’s event in Las Vegas, Delta Waterfowl had an opportunity to catch up for a few minutes with Sec. David Bernhardt of the U.S. Dept. of the Interior to ask about the Trump administration’s efforts to address the recent decline in hunting participation. Bernhardt leads an agency with more than 70,000 employees, who serve as stewards the nation’s national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges and other public lands.

Delta Waterfowl: Hunter numbers have been on the decline recently. What is the federal government and Department of the Interior doing to stem the decline?

Sec. Bernhardt: We’re doing a lot. We’re working to make hunting easier by enhancing public access and improving our regulations so they are less complicated. We’re also working to ensure that states get credit for activities like moving online for hunter safety and other things they can do to retain or attract new hunters, and making sure we’re giving them proper credit for that in our assessing for Pittman-Robertson funds. It really requires everybody thinking about it — the state wildlife managers and fish and game commissions thinking about how to get folks out there. Where I’m from in Virginia, we just moved to Sunday hunting and we went to an online hunter education program. We’re also trying to do things like archery in schools and things like that. The other thing I’ve tried to do personally is really get people to understand the value of buying a duck stamp for conservation. If you want to do something great for conservation, you don’t have to be a duck hunter to buy a migratory bird conservation stamp.

DW: You mentioned access. The past couple of years, the Department has really opened up a lot of federal land to hunting and fishing. Is there more to come?

Sec. Bernhardt: Absolutely. Last year, we did 1.4 million acres of new or expanded hunting and fishing opportunities on federal areas. Next year, we’ll even do more than that. Right now, we’re at 1.7 million acres for our term. We’ll do much better than that going into next year. Access is a really big deal. Not everybody can belong to a wonderful gun club.

DW: What else is the administration doing to further hunting and fishing?

Sec. Bernhardt: We are concentrated on all of the things that folks have come to us and said, “Hey, here’s something you can do better.” For example, we eliminated the (previous administration’s) ban on lead ammo right out of the box. We have a concerted effort to have 10 people whose primary job is to go around looking for new and better ways to incentivize hunting and fishing. We’ve been doing that for the past two-and-a-half years.

DW: Thank you for your time, Mr. Secretary.

Sec. Bernhardt: Thanks for saying hi. I love what you guys do at Delta Waterfowl.