The Mississippi Wildlife Federation (MWF) joins a host of outdoor recreation partners including the National Wildlife Federation, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and 47 other conservation and sportsmen’s organizations to send a message to governors and mayors across the country, including Gov. Reeves of Mississippi, urging them to take actions to maintain safe and appropriate public access to nature during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Americans are experiencing tremendous hardship – economically, physically, mentally and socially – as we weather the COVID-19 global pandemic,” said Ashlee Ellis Smith, chief executive officer of MWF. “Fortunately, it is possible to enjoy the outdoors and our state’s abundant natural resources while practicing the recommended social distancing guidelines. In fact, many scientific studies have found a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety and depression. The citizens in Mississippi should be allowed to continue to enjoy the outdoors they love in a responsible and safe manner. We call on Gov. Reeves to continue to maintain public access to the natural spaces and outdoor places we hold so dear.”
Mississippi is one of 22 states with a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to hunt and fish. Section 12A to Article III of the Mississippi Constitution reads as follows:
The people have the right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife, including by the use of traditional methods, subject only to laws and regulations that promote wildlife conservation and management and that preserve the future of hunting and fishing, as the Legislature may prescribe by general law. Public hunting and fishing shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife. This section may not be construed to modify any provision of law relating to trespass, property rights, the regulation of commercial activities or the maintenance of levees pursuant to Article 11.
With the entire country, we are concerned, careful, and committed to effective responses to the COVID-19 virus in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. We deeply appreciate your current burden of leadership and efforts to find and implement solutions medically, economically, and socially. Our organizations will help however possible and hope for good health for you and your communities.
The outdoors is where we are most able to help. At parks, wildlife management areas, lakes, and other places, we ask for your consideration in keeping managed-use facilities, boat launches, hunting and fishing areas, and viewing areas open to the general public. Barring localized situations that may justify closures, we urge a general policy of maintaining open access that will help families through this challenging time. Nature is an ideal place to keep safe distances among people while simultaneously allowing citizens educational and recreational experiences that provide health and hope. Now, more than ever, Americans need to have the ability to access these lands for a variety of reasons, including hunting and fishing to provide food for their families.
In particular, please consider maintaining the openness of opportunities for the hunting of spring turkey and bear, and other in-season species, as well as fishing and recreational shooting opportunities that are timely right now. The spring hunting season is upon us, and if your state’s wildlife management areas and other public lands remain open, this will provide an opportunity for the solitary and safe pursuit of hunting. Fishing also keeps people at a safe distance apart and can help sustain the economy if tackle shops remain open as essential businesses. Several states have temporarily waived fishing license requirements (but not limits), or withheld trout stocking announcements (which attract crowds), or opened seasons early (to reduce risk of crowding). Recreational shooters are practicing social distancing at ranges that remain open and also play a strong economic role by generating the federal excise tax revenue that drives the American System of Conservation Funding (ASCF).
In recent weeks, many of our organizations have communicated with our members, as well as federal and state policy makers, to encourage safe social distancing practices while enjoying the outdoors. As such, a social media campaign known as #ResponsibleRecreation is underway to encourage the public to act responsibly as they enjoy the outdoors. Similarly, we can support your efforts through our webpages and social media channels by distributing information on available points of access and guidance on safety.
Thank you for your consideration of this matter and diligence in facing the crisis.
About Mississippi Wildlife FederationMWF was founded in 1946 and has become the leading wildlife conservation network in the state. Its mission is to conserve Mississippi’s natural resources and protect its wildlife and sportsman’s legacy. The Federation – one of 52 state & territory affiliates of the National Wildlife Federation – is committed to natural resource conservation, environmental quality, hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation in Mississippi. As one of the oldest conservation organizations in the state, MWF has cultivated a rich heritage of signature initiatives that advance a culture of protecting this legacy. It takes important stances on issues impacting conservation and the environment, even when those issues are unpopular. It has stewarded Mississippi’s natural resources for 73 years, and will continue to do so for the next 73. For more information, and to discover how to be a part of this mission, visit www.mswildlife.org.