Conserving the Nature of America
Press Release
ICYMI: U.S. Fish, Wildlife director, a Mississippi native: Great American Outdoors Act critical

August 3, 2020


Originally published by: The Clarion Ledger (Jackson, Miss.)

By:  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Aurelia Skipwith

Spanning at least the past couple of decades, no president has done more for conservation than President Trump. The Great American Outdoors Act alone is one of the greatest conservation achievements in U.S. history, and it would not have happened without the steadfast leadership of President Trump and Secretary of the Interior Bernhardt. The President achieved what many before him have failed to do and successfully cemented his conservation legacy for all time.

The Great American Outdoors Act provides permanent funding to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million per year, which is derived from royalties paid by energy companies drilling for oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf. The funding will be used to conserve public lands and support outdoor recreation across the country. 

It will also use these same oil and gas royalties to provide $9.5 billion over the next five years to tackle deferred maintenance projects on public lands around the country. This landmark law will enable the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to address a backlog of maintenance issues that will enhance the National Wildlife Refuge System for current and future generations of Americans.

The Great American Outdoors Act could not have come at a better time for the country. As we persevere with the COVID-19 pandemic, the public has found refuge in nature, particularly within our national wildlife refuges, which have remained open during this difficult time. Our national wildlife refuges across the country provide an unparalleled opportunity for Americans to experience nature and recreate outdoors. 

Founded in 1903, the National Wildlife Refuge System is a diverse network of lands and waters dedicated to conserving America’s fish and wildlife resources. It serves a purpose distinct from other public lands – focusing on wildlife conservation and wildlife-dependent recreation.  President Trump understands that our American heritage – hunting and fishing – as well as other wildlife-dependent recreational activities like hiking, birdwatching, nature photography and environmental education – bring families together, creating jobs and supporting local communities.

In Mississippi, where I spent my summers with my grandfather, I learned the importance of nature, the Refuge System offers over 130 hunting and fishing opportunities on 13 national wildlife refuges. Over 38,000 acres of refuge lands in Mississippi were purchased with $37 million in funding from LWCF. Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge is one of the refuges that has benefitted over the years. The refuge is the home to Mississippi sandhill cranes, a critically endangered subspecies found nowhere else on earth in the wild. Only about 100 individuals remain, including 20-25 breeding pairs. The refuge itself harkens back to an earlier time along the Gulf Coast when wet pine savanna habitat was abundant. 

All Americans will feel the benefits of the President’s leadership on the Great American Outdoors Act. Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hosted more than 50 million visitors and their spending generated more than $3 billion in sales in local economies, supporting over 41,000 jobs.  

Our National Wildlife Refuge System is all about healthy lands and waters, as well as infrastructure to keep it accessible and safe. The funding made available by the Great American Outdoors Act will allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to acquire lands that strategically increase the effectiveness of refuges in conserving a multitude of species of fish, wildlife, migratory birds and plants.  Land acquisition will also help us to provide more public access.

The Great American Outdoors Act will provide additional funding to address the Refuge System’s deferred maintenance backlog, which was allowed to grow to nearly $1.4 billion during prior Administrations. The deferred maintenance backlog on Mississippi’s national wildlife refuges is nearly $24 million.  The Trump Administration will now be able to address the deteriorating condition of these national treasures that resulted from a lack of attention from previous administrations.

Nationwide, the Service alone is responsible for over $46 billion in constructed real property assets that include over 25,000 structures as well as nearly 14,000 roads, bridges and dams. With President Trump’s signature of the Great American Outdoors Act, the neglect stops.  

Nearly 8,500 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees are dedicated to working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The President has furthered that mission unlike any other in my lifetime.

As a young woman who grew up outside in Columbus, Mississippi, on my family’s farm hunting and fishing, the President has helped to preserve part of my family’s heritage. His leadership and commitment to our natural resources will ensure that the American public can safely visit their public lands and enjoy their natural heritage for generations to come. I am sure my grandfather would be proud.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit

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