Mississippi State legislation creates fund to invest in outdoors, conservation

Published 7:46 am Thursday, February 10, 2022

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JACKSON — Mississippi legislators voted to create a fund to invest in the outdoors and conservation. A pair of similar bills, (HB 606 and HB 1064) voted on by the House last week, would establish the Mississippi Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund with no new tax to fund it. 

“We applaud the House leadership for passing this legislation – without it, Mississippi loses out on tens of millions of federal dollars. For example, Mississippi only receives $300,000 yearly from the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, a very successful program in the Farm Bill,” Ed Penny with Ducks Unlimited said. “Other surrounding states are receiving approximately $6 million a year from this same program for the same efforts. That is $6m a year – or $60m over ten years – that we’re missing out on all because we lack the matching funds needed to secure these federal dollars. This is just one program, there are many others like it that could literally bring millions more for conservation to Mississippi. This House legislation addresses this issue head on because it will invest the needed dollars necessary to secure these additional federal funds.”

This bipartisan legislation dedicates more than $10 million a year to long-term conservation efforts and secures tens of millions more in federal dollars that would maximize the overall impact of the program. This bipartisan legislation passed with nearly unanimous support by a vote of 117-4.

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“When we conducted polling on this issue, over 75% of Mississippians supported this approach for a conservation and outdoor program. This would potentially triple the overall amount of dollars for the outdoors and conservation coming to our state, which in turn would create more jobs and help strengthen our economy,” Alex Littlejohn with The Nature Conservancy said. “These investments would ultimately place Mississippi exactly where we are supposed to be – as a leader in the outdoors and conservation.” 

The House legislation would promote innovative public-private conservation partnerships by allowing all Mississippi communities, counties, state & federal agencies, and charitable conservation organizations to participate in project proposals. Eligible projects would provide clean drinking water for surrounding communities, improve access to public lands, provide outdoor recreation opportunities and programs that restore and enhance wildlife habitat.

The Mississippi Senate also passed its own conservation funding bill last week. SB 2495 would establish a conservation funding program for outdoor, wildlife habitat and public outdoor recreation projects.  Eligible projects would be limited to just 20% of Mississippi lands and charitable conservation and outdoors groups would be restricted from participation. The legislation allocates zero funding to the program and contains a provision that would terminate the program after three years.

Other legislation concerning Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks 

Additionally, the House and Senate have passed legislation to allow the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks to ask people purchasing a hunting or fishing license if they wish to be an organ donor. Mississippi’s senate is considering a change in the management of State Parks. 

One idea is to create a new state parks division within the MDWFP. Senate Bill 2518 would transfer the State Parks to the Mississippi Development Authority Tourism Division and Senate Bill 2515 would transfer the State Parks to the Mississippi Department of Tourism. 

Senate Bill 2506 would establish a three day season in the last weekend of September for hunters to harvest bucks with bow and arrow. In the house, House Bill 1035 would authorize the MDWFP to establish a velvet hunting season given it is three consecutive days and no more than five consecutive days from August 20 to August 31. 

Water skiers would have to wear a personal flotation device and may not need an observer in a boat if the boat has certain mirrors as passed in Senate Bill 2498.