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Fish and Wildlife Conservation
An Interview With Governor Haley Barbour

In this article, Haley Barbour, Mississippi's Governor, discusses with Wildlife Mississippi Magazine his thoughts on conservation and our state's fish and wildlife resources.

Governor Haley Barbour. Photo by Joe Lee.

Governor Haley Barbour has a long standing record on supporting conservation programs and has personally supported conservation groups for the past 15 years.

1. How important do you think hunting and fishing is to Mississippi's quality of life?

Very important. Hunting and fishing plays directly into that equation. Mississippi has such wonderful fish and wildlife resources that set us aside from other parts of the country. We have cypress trees that are so large that they are as impressive as the California redwoods, some of the best saltwater and freshwater fishing anywhere, the best hunting and more species of birds can be seen in our state than almost anywhere. This is important not only in recruiting jobs, but maintaining opportunities for our citizens. President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “The problems of juvenile delinquency decrease in direct proportion to the opportunities of our young people to enjoy outlets for their energies.” The more our young people can take advantage of the outdoors, the more they grow up to be well rounded citizens, have an appreciation for the outdoors and have less of a chance of being involved with drugs and crime.

2. Some people think that we can not have a good environment while maintaining a strong economy. What do you think?

We must never forget that it takes a strong economy to sustain a quality environment. We spend too much of our time and energy debating economics versus environment, when they can, and should reinforce each other if we will only let common sense govern. Note the third world and East European countries that have destroyed their environment. Failed social governments, the ultimate regulators, have decimated their economies and left no margin for environmental protection. It will take years of capitalist entrepreneurship for them to approach western environmental standards. We are fortunate because Mississippi and the United States have a strong economy. We can afford a quality environment, but we have got to stay competitive by making the proper investments, so that our businesses and environment can support our nation's continued prosperity. Otherwise, our environment will likely be destroyed just as it is in many countries. We shouldn't lose site of this basic fact by doing things that undermine our basic economic strength. This will eventually turn on us and hamper our ability to finance a quality job of improving the environment.

3. Do you have any plans for changing and/or improving hunting and fishing legislation?

At the state level, I have no immediate plans for significant legislative changes related to hunting and fishing policies. But, I’m always open to considering new ideas and opportunities to make improvements. At the federal level, I would support initiatives that would increase the emphasis on hunting, fishing and other forms of outdoor recreation within our National Forests and National Wildlife Refuges. Our Congressional Delegation has strongly supported valuable conservation programs such as the Wetlands, Conservation and Grassland reserve programs and the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program. I strongly support President Bush's Healthy Forests Initiative and the Healthy Forests Reserve Program. These programs have and will continue to significantly improve habitat for deer, turkey, bobwhite quail and waterfowl.

4. Who should have the authority to control season dates and bag limits, the Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, or the Legislature?

Hunting seasons and bag limits should work to ensure the health and continued viability of wild game and fish populations while providing ample harvest and recreational opportunities for Mississippi's sportsmen. A broad framework should be set by the legislature for seasons allowing the Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks latitude to adjust season dates and bag limits based on the biological needs of our resources. The Commission should rely on input from fisheries and wildlife biologists and licensed sportsmen and women when making those decisions.

5. How do you feel about out of state hunters and anglers?

Whether it is Mississippians going to other states to hunt and fish or tourists coming to Mississippi to enjoy our outdoors, there must be cooperation and fairness among states in terms of their regulations and laws. I believe we provide extremely fair opportunities in our state for non Mississippi sportsmen and women, and I expect the same from other states. As long as our laws are obeyed and our state's resources are treated with respect, I want Mississippi to lay out the welcome mat. Out of state hunters and anglers bring millions of tourism dollars into our state every year.

Governor and Mrs. Barbour enjoy an opening day quail hunt. Photo by Chad Mills.

6. Hunting and fishing is important to our economy. Do you think these opportunities can be expanded?

Not long ago, I hosted a conference focused on revitalizing rural Mississippi. We brought in experts from all over the country to share ideas and discuss issues like value added agriculture, revitalizing the economies of small towns, and one of the areas I found particularly interesting, nature based and outdoor tourism. Hunters and anglers have been widely acknowledged for their role in conserving our fish, wildlife and natural resources, but they represent so much more than meets the eye. Sportsmen in Mississippi annually pay $55.6 million in state sales, fuel and income taxes this could pay 1,881 teachers' salaries or fund the annual education expenses of 10,488 students. Sportsmen support 12,258 jobs in Mississippi. And the ripple effect of Mississippi's sportsmen is $1.2 billion on our state's economy. Hunters and anglers mean jobs in the rural parts of Mississippi that have made the effort to maintain and promote their hunting and fishing opportunities. It boils down to quality of life. We have something that other states don't and we need to use it to our advantage. We need to maintain quality fish and wildlife habitat not only for the sake of conservation, but for future generations and as a means to recruit business, industry and physicians.

7. Do you have any comments on the vast litter problem in the state?

It is an absolute shame that people don’t respect their neighborhoods and roadways enough to dispose of litter in a proper manner. There’s practically a trashcan on every corner. And it’s not just an aesthetic issue, but also an economic development issue. Leland Speed, whom I appointed to head the Mississippi Development Authority, the state’s economic development agency, speaks strongly on this point when he makes speeches to local government and civic organizations. He encourages them to clean up their towns and make them visually appealing. That’s something that doesn’t cost a lot of money, but makes a huge difference. What company wants to move into an area that’s covered with trash and litter? We can certainly do a better job in this area. It should be a matter of pride for all our citizens.

8. Should the state play a role in promoting hunting and fishing to our youth to increase participation?

Absolutely. We should do everything in our power to encourage young people to become more involved in the outdoors. Today's youth will determine the fate of hunting and fishing for the next generation. But, it is more than that. It's about making sure Mississippi is a great place to live, work and raise a family. It's about spending time with family and friends. It is about parents spending time with their children in the outdoors and the special bonds and memories that are created there. It's about keeping kids off the streets and away from drugs and other trouble. Mississippi is blessed with abundant natural resources, and by exposing youth to the outdoors in a positive manner, they will take care of it long after you and I are gone.

9. Do you consider yourself a conservationist or an environmentalist?

I definitely consider myself a conservationist. I believe we can balance the needs of mankind while sustaining the health and viability of our natural resources.

A perfect example of this is the forestry industry in Mississippi. It’s one of the key economic industries in our state. We harvest thousands of acres of trees a year, but because we manage properly, we’ve got more forest acreage now than we had in the 1930s. Teddy Roosevelt labeled himself as a conservationist, and I might add, he was also a republican. He understood this type of balanced, sustainable approach to managing our natural resources.

Unfortunately, due to the extreme tactics of some organizations that label themselves as “environmental groups,” I think the term “environmentalist” is sometimes viewed with negative connotations. I don’t think driving steel spikes into trees in order to cause injury to a logger or setting SUV dealerships on fire makes one a good steward of the environment.

10. Do you have any other thoughts you would like to add?

Mississippi's First Lady Marsha Barbour officially opened the FIfth Audubon Hummingbird Migration Celebration with the release of the first banded hummingbird. Barbour agreed to open the celebration because of he interest in nature and desire to strengthen the state's budding agritourism and ecotourism business. Photo by Barry Burleson.

I was fortunate enough to grow up in one of the richest fish and wildlife regions anywhere in the world, the Mississippi Delta. I grew up in Yazoo City near Wolf Lake and near forests where I have hunted and fished since I was a kid. I have worked as a volunteer with some of our state's conservation organizations to provide additional fish and wildlife habitat and to provide opportunities for the many anglers, hunters and wildlife watchers throughout Mississippi to utilize that habitat.

My wife, Marsha, has a tremendous love for the outdoors. She understands the need for conservation and wildlife management. She's been actively involved and taken a leadership role in promoting many wildlife related activities.

Our wildlife and the efforts we've made toward improving habitat are something all Mississippians should be extremely proud of. Species that were nearly extinct 50 years ago are now thriving due to the efforts of sportsmen. Wood ducks are flourishing. Wild turkey and white-tail deer are also good examples of species that were once in trouble but have repopulated with a vengeance. In fact, Mississippi leads the nation with more deer per acre than any other state.

In Mississippi, nearly everyone is a hunter, angler or both. And those who aren't are at least lovers of the outdoors. I want to encourage Mississippians to appreciate our tremendous natural resources and recognize how important fish and wildlife are to our state.