Column: A new era in Mississippi’s conservation history

Published 5:08 pm Wednesday, May 29, 2024

By the end of this month it is likely Gov. Tate Reeves will appoint a new commissioner to serve on the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks commission. His next appointment comes at a time when the commission is actively discussing key conservation issues.

It could be the start of a new era in Mississippi’s conservation and the MDWFP commission history. One where the resource, not special interest groups or private citizens come first. Summer is a great time for the outdoors community to work towards getting needed legislation passed next year. The public certainly needs to stay engaged with conservation in Mississippi. 

Chronic Wasting Disease, waterfowl management, turkey season changes and supplemental feeding are just a handful of topics the commission is faced with right now. One commissioner or one vote is all it takes to alter the course of conservation in Mississippi. 

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It is important Reeves picks the right commissioner for the job. The commissioner who replaces Leonard Bentz on the MDWFP commission needs to be someone who will put the resource first. Recreational opportunity is important but it is only possible if the resource is protected, conserved and enhanced. 

As a commission, the MDWFP commission needs to move forward and work in step with the MDWFP staff. Commissioners should make decisions by strongly considering the scientific recommendations made by staff. 

In my experience talking with MDWFP program leaders Rick Hamrick, Houston Havens, William McKinley and Adam Butler, they care so deeply about the natural resource they work with. Program recommendations are made with the resource coming first and hunter opportunity coming second. The two are crucial parts of the MDWFP mission statement.

In covering the commission the last two years, the efforts of William “Billy” Mounger to be a faithful steward of our resources as commissioner has been overshadowed. It is my fault for not highlighting his steady beacon of hope  enough. 

Mounger does his research, he talks with other states, looks for solutions and listens to the recommendations made by staff. Another commissioner like him could be a blessing to this state and our natural resources. Commissioners Scott Coopwood and Gary Rhodes seemed to make strides this past year and Bill Cossar has to. 

The past legislative session was disappointing as an outdoorsman. Bills which could have helped ensure natural resources like fish and wildlife were in the public trust and the turkey stamp bill did not pass. It is imperative these bills pass before it is too late for the resource. 

One way the public can help conservation is by writing to your legislators, to make sure they know how important the outdoors is. Another way is to stay engaged and up to date on the issues, possible legislation and latest publications about habitat and wildlife management. 

Of the 19.2 million acres of forest in Mississippi, Non-industrial private landowners own 70 percent of the land. It is important for landowners to invest time in habitat management and to be good stewards of the resource. If you don’t know where to begin, a private lands visit with MDWFP is a great way to start.

Commissioners, MDWFP and legislation can make changes but the stewardship of natural resources will ultimately fall on citizens. We all need to be walking forward and putting the resources first.