Local hook-and-bullet reporters talked with new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Aurelia Skipwith about expanding fishing and hunting access, building the base for conservation, hatchery salmon production and clean water at last weekend’s Pacific Northwest Sportsmen’s Show in Portland.
Skipwith, a biologist and lawyer who was confirmed to the position 52-39 by the Senate in mid-December, also spoke with and before representatives from the region’s fishing and hunting industries and ODFW staffers.
And she stopped in at the nearby Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, where she enjoyed a “phenomenal visit,” she told a radio show host.
Well known for its waterfowl hunting, the refuge is among many whose purchase was aided by Duck Stamp dollars.
“We recognize that hunters and fishers are the backbone of conservation,” Skipwith told Terry Otto of The Columbian when asked why she’d come West to the show, which she termed the second largest in the country.
“That is where we need to make sure that we are engaging with the industry, to come here and let them know that we appreciate what they are doing and that this aligns with what this administration is about,” she said.
During an interview with John Kruse of America Outdoors Radio for broadcast this Saturday, Skipwith termed the expansion of fishing and hunting opportunities on national wildlife refuges, which ramped up during the Obama Administration and has continued with the Trump Administration, “one of the bread and butters of what the Fish and Wildlife Service is doing right now,”
“How do we expand those opportunities. How do we look at access? Are we engaging all of the traditional audiences. Are we engaging the new audiences? Are we engaging the states as much as we can? And so we’re always looking at finding ways to do that. We look at ways our regulations allow for ways to increase fishing and hunting opportunities,” she said, adding that 1.4 million acres have been opened for our favorite activities over the past year alone.
USFWS also just announced that with public input it was developing a list of priority 640-plus-acre landlocked parcels to unlock, but the administration was also criticized at the same time by Backcountry Hunters and Anglers for contradicting that goal by proposing to slash the Land and Water Conservation Fund by 97 percent.
A marathon and trail runner originally from Indiana and with roots in the Deep South, Skipwith also talked about “cultivating” people to begin using public lands with Kruse.
She told Otto that with so many people in close proximity to national wildlife refuges, “(It’s) educating folks that you don’t have to go all the way to Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon. There are places in your backyard that you can go to experience the great outdoors as I have, and it’s something that is very important to me.”
Skipwith is the first black USFWS director. She holds degrees in biology, genetics and law. Prior to her confirmation, she was an assistant director in the agency for two and a half years, and before that worked for Monsanto.
Asked by Randall Bonner, a Corvallis-based outdoorsmen who freelances for this magazine and others, about recent administration moves around the Clean Water Act — “protections that ensure healthy ecosystems for our fish” — Bonner reported on his Rain or Shine blog that Skipwith replied, “The USFWS makes the best decisions they can based on science.”
Touching on proposed mining in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed as well, Bonner wrote, “Let Director Skipwith know what you think about conservation of our salmon, steelhead and trout streams that need clean water.”
Speaking of salmon, she confirmed to Otto that USFWS has a role in boosting production.
“You have commercial fishing, recreational fishing, tribal nations, and so knowing that this is a species that is important to various stakeholders, knowing that the federal government has an interest as well, we will be working with all the parties. It’s not going to be a single group that is going to have a solution. It’s going to be a team effort,” Skipwith stated.