House Bill Would Gut Wildlife Department

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If the supporters of a House Bill introduced last week have their way, the state Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks faces perhaps the greatest reduction in annual funding in its 73-year history, according to agency officials.

The agency is already reeling from the implications of House Bill 1657 introduced by members of the House Appropriations Committee.

"If passed into law, this bill would leave our agency with a $17 million shortfall from what our agency requested," Executive Director Dr. Sam Polles said.

"If this bill passes, it means that we will have to shut down about 75 percent of state parks and many of our state lakes and wildlife management areas," Deputy Director Al Tuck said.

According to Tuck, this will have a direct result in the loss of new business development and state tourism.

"Every year, the state spends millions of dollars to attract business and industry to Mississippi," Tuck said. "These businesses look closely at such things as the quality of life and recreational opportunities before locating their businesses in particular areas."

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According to agency figures, business and outdoor recreation are partners in revenue in the Magnolia State.

Mississippi sportsmen annually pay $55.6 million in state sales, fuel, and income taxes.

One aspect of the new bill that concerns agency officials involves the closure of a lot of public recreational facilities.

"If we have to close wildlife management areas, state lakes, and state parks that have been set up with the assistance of federal funding, it could mean the repayment of millions of dollars to the federal government," Polles explained.

Since 1950, Mississippi has received more than $800,000,000 from federal funding sources for wildlife management areas and state lakes.

In addition, officials say that passage of the bill would result in the agency providing an inadequate number of law enforcement officers across the state for public safety and wildlife enforcement on public areas.