The following op-ed was written and submitted by Mississippi Ducks Unlimited
In the state of Mississippi, our outdoor heritage is second to none. Currently, outdoor recreation in our state – such as hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, birding and paddling – generates $8 billion annually while supporting 79,000 jobs. These numbers aren’t far behind major industries like agriculture and forestry in terms of economic impact, and it’s no coincidence each of these industries depend on the same thing – securing the future of our natural resources.
That’s why it’s incumbent upon our government to institute policies that help us grow that outdoor culture and adventurous spirit that have been cultivated in our society for generations. Over the last four years, DU was proud to work with Congress and the Trump Administration to pass significant conservation legislation, making billions available for conservation efforts across the country. The 2018 Farm Bill, Great American Outdoors Act and America’s Conservation Enhancement Act all became law and made billions available for on-the-ground conservation work on public and private lands.
The goal now is simple – make sure these opportunities are available to Mississippians. On Feb. 10, the Mississippi House of Representatives passed House Bill 1231, which would create the Mississippi Outdoor Stewardship Fund. This bill passed by an overwhelmingly bipartisan margin of 117-2 and would direct a percentage of the existing state sales tax on sporting goods items to conserving the resources and places we enjoy so much, with no new tax for Mississippians.
This transparent and accountable conservation trust fund would be available to these entities through a competitive grant program overseen by an independent board. Projects would enhance our public lands and waters and protect fish and wildlife habitats and support soil, water and land conservation on our working farms and forests.
Unfortunately, on March 10, the state Senate passed their own version of the bill, only theirs was much different than the House version. After moving through the three separate committees, some of the most important components of the original bill were either altered significantly or removed entirely. Specifically, the Senate version does not fund the Trust Fund or allow nonprofit entities like DU to apply for grant funds. Nor does the Senate version allow funding to be leveraged with Farm Bill dollars and support private lands projects.
Simply put, Ducks Unlimited supports the original House legislation because it will benefit waterfowl habitat, foster new hunting opportunities on public lands and benefit the public through cleaner water and protection from flooding.
In the coming days, a conference committee will negotiate the differences between the two versions of the legislation. It’s vitally important that Mississippi state representatives and senators agree to pass a version similar to the original House bill to support our public and private lands, public-private conservation partnerships and dedicated funding to secure the future of Mississippi’s outdoors for present and future generations alike. Our state should take full advantage of this opportunity to make a big investment in our own backyard.
Contact your state representative and senator and let them know you support the original House version of House Bill 1231.
Steven Birdwell, MS DU State Chairman
B.C. Rogers, State Policy Chairman
Grayson Lewis, State Policy Chairman