Just imagine. At a time in history that wildlife resources and hunters need more not less, what could YOUR State Department of Natural Resources and Statewide Conservation Organizations do with FIFTY TO SIXTY MILLION DOLLARS?! OR MORE?! Acquire more public hunting land? Improve existing public-use properties for hunters (and non-hunters)? Better wildlife habitat management? More and better places for you and future generations to hunt, fish, and just enjoy the great outdoors?! Forever. And what if this could be done without tax increases? It can. MS HB 1231 Mississippi Outdoors Stewardship Trust Fund was modeled after a similar program in Georgia and elsewhere that diverts a very small percentage of existing state taxes into a conservation fund that can then be leveraged with existing federal dollars to put 3-4x that value on the ground. Right now! Not later! Listen to this episode. Hear James Cummins, Ed Penny, and Alex Littlejohn explain the enormous wildlife conservation advantages to Mississippi – and possibly to your own home state. And then ask yourself, why would person or persons gut this bill on the Mississippi Senate floor? Ask yourself as a Mississippian, how can you ensure this bill becomes reality? And if you live elsewhere in the US, does your state have a similar program? If not – why not?! You’re not political, huh? If you hunt, fish or own guns, you’d damned well better be! But trust me, you’ll enjoy this dynamite Duck Season Somewhere podcast episode regardless.
Mississippi HB 1231 Mississippi Outdoors Stewardship Trust Fund
What Does I Hunt. I Fish. I Vote Mean?
Ramsey Russell: I’m your host Ramsey Russell, join me here to listen to those conversations. Welcome back to this episode of Duck Season Somewhere special episode. There’s a House Bill 12-31, Mississippi Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund. I know a lot of you guys tell me, oh I’m not political, I don’t want to be political, I don’t like politics. Just listen to this, right here. Ask yourself, we’re always telling everybody how we hunters are conservationists, that we put our time and our money into the wildlife resource. A bill like this does just that. The state of Georgia, for example, generates $20 million annually, on a sales tax diversion. They are then able to leverage it and call or share it up and marry it up to other dollars and have $83 million, $97 million that go directly into their backyard, helping hunters and fishermen and especially the resources. This bill got bogged down between the House and the Senate in the state of Mississippi. I thought it would make a great interesting topic for us as hunters, to think about moving forward. The first guest today is Mr. James Cummins of Wildlife, Mississippi. How are you, James?
James Cummins: I’m doing great. It’s great to be here Ramsey.
Ramsey Russell: Tell us a little bit about yourself. And I’ve known you forever. I’ve known you for 30 years. I think, I remember you walking the hall still at Mississippi State University when I was-
James Cummins: It was a long time ago.
Ramsey Russell: It’s a long time ago, man. Too long. But tell everybody, introduce yourself. You tell everybody a little bit about yourself.
James Cummins: So I’m going to go back a ways. This is the mid-1600s and our family was in England. And famous minister named Giuliani’s Hearing. Well, our family was being burned at the state. Obviously, didn’t like that too much. So in 1642, we arrived in Jamestown, stay there a little while then. When about the Revolutionary War, we showed up in North Carolina, started making guns and bayonets for the Revolutionary Army. So the Tories burned that down. And then, we made our way to what was then Carroll County, Mississippi in 1833. And I still have our family’s farm today. You mentioned about politics, and I wanted to say this story about why we ran out of England. And if you think about what used to happen in England. The King owned all the wildlife, the King owned all the guns. And so our founding fathers wanted to make sure that works a little bit differently. So as you know, all of the wildlife in the United States is held in public trust. I own it, you own it, your listeners own it. We take care of it. And that’s why we have the Second Amendment. So that the King, or in this case, an American president or government can’t control all those rights. We have some checks and balances. And if there’s one single thing that makes me a little bit different. So I grew up in Greenville, Mississippi and had the opportunity that a lot of people don’t have. My mother’s brother was a guy by the name of Jack Hearing and he was the executive director of the Mississippi Department Wildlife Fisheries and Parks. And I would spend the summers with him when he was a fisheries biologist and come down here to Jackson and got to really see what he did. And as he moved up in his career, I got to really see the importance of policy and politics. And I went on to work in the United States Senate for one of Mississippi’s greatest senators, Thad Cochran. And really, he’s done such a phenomenal job in terms of conservation legislation. But my point is, you really got to see the impact of what somebody that graduated from Greenville High School that was a total nobody, and had a great interest in how do we make a difference? I always wanted to make a difference. I just didn’t want to be out banding ducks or tagging fish for a living. I wanted to try to make a difference and move the needle for conservation, move the needle for fish and wildlife management and for hunters and anglers. And so that’s kind of what really is more of my passion. And it’s just like, hey, you know, one of the problems I think we have today and people that you know are in the field that you and I are in is, most of us, we don’t want to go to Washington. So we’re letting people that don’t like to hunt and fish, they’re ended up running these federal agencies. They’re making decisions or state agencies. They don’t want to be in a state capital. They want to be out in rural Mississippi and rural America enjoying all the resources that we all enjoy. It’s hard to do that if you live in a city. So we’ve got to do a better job, even as professionals, in making sure that people that are interested in hunting and fishing end up in leadership and state agencies, and in federal agencies, and in nonprofit organizations, because somebody else is making those decisions and we need to be making those decisions. Whether it’s about setting limits for waterfowl, or it’s about how to structure federal farm bill programs, or how do you set up a national forest in terms of the rules and regs, we’re there. And whether you can, you’re there, no ATV’s allowed, or you can take an ATV to go in and retrieve a wild hog, wild deer, or an elk, or whatever the case may be. So we really need to make sure that we are in the positions and we are taking an active role. Let me say this, that’s not just about people that are in this field. It’s probably, more so, about people that wake up and love to go to that duck blind, love to go to that deer blind, love jerking crappy, which out of the box lake in the Mississippi Delta, like we’re getting ready to do. Look, I have a bumper sticker on my truck, it says “I hunt, I fish, and I vote.”
Ramsey Russell: Amen.
James Cummins: And so many people need to recognize. And if you look at it for the most part, hunters and anglers vote more frequently than the general population. We’ve got to even do a better job than that. But more importantly, we’ve got to make sure that our elected officials understand, I hunt, I fish, I vote. Because a lot of times, they don’t do it. They don’t understand that. And we’ve got to do a better job of explaining. It’s just like, this piece of legislation that’s pending before us in Mississippi. People think this is about hunting and fishing. It’s not about hunting and fishing, oh, it is, but it’s much greater than that. This is about Mississippi’s losing millennials at a greater rate than anywhere in the United States. What do millennials like to do? They like nature, they like the outdoors, they like kayaking and they like canoeing, they like duck hunting. This is about trying to retain. We spend a lot of money educating some great people in this state. Let’s keep this brilliant talent and these brilliant minds in our state. The outdoors is what really separates and makes the United States so much better and such a better quality of life than most other countries. The Boone and Crockett Club, I’ve served as vice president of Boone and Crockett Club as the second oldest organization in the United States. Theodore Roosevelt is who basically set up our system of conservation that we know it today. He had a great friend by the name of LQC Lamar. LQC happened to be a United States senator from the great state of Mississippi. What a coincidence! If you go to Lamar Valley and Yellowstone, that’s named after Lamar. But he’s the one that really helped set up and worked with Roosevelt in setting up our national forest with the Timberland Reserve Bill in 1891. But all this stuff doesn’t happen unless, we, as a citizenry, get involved. We as a citizenry are letting our elected officials know that, hey, this Mississippi Outdoor Stewardship Trust find that’s important to me as a citizen. We need to get it fixed right. We don’t need to base it on a whim of appropriations. Every one of us pay every time we buy a box of shotgun shells, another piece of hunting and fishing equipment, or sporting goods, we’re paying 7% sales tax. In this particular piece of legislation, we’re particularly asking for 1% of that to go. Everybody needs to know there are elected officials, need to hear from us, how important pieces of legislation like this. But it’s not just this, it’s the interior appropriations bill. The funding bills that fund our refuge to National Wildlife Refuge, our many refugees that are in the state, our National Forest, our state parks in Mississippi, in shambles $147 million in backlog. But hey, they would be fixed, if it was a priority. Things get to be priorities, because the squeaky wheel gets the grease. They need to hear from constituents more. Anyway, I’ll shut up there. And I think you’ve got a question.
The Values of Mississippi Conservation
This is about trying to put conservation on the ground, work at it, and work on it with a variety of different people, whether they like to deer hunt, duck hunt, turkey hunt.
Ramsey Russell: Well, you’ve been working and you’ve been working in wildlife for a very long time, Wildlife Mississippi after school, everything else. Talk about it. And I’m leading up to a question about this program. I don’t hear a lot about this bill, but I’m trying to lead up to it. Speak if you will, about some of the values of Mississippi and some of the programs you’ve been involved with in Mississippi conservation that don’t directly pertain to hunting.
James Cummins: So when we were formed as an organization, we had people like Clark Reed, people like Judge Charles Pickering, Leela Win, that really are early founders. And they really looked at it. This was in the in the 1990s. If you looked at conservation in the state, it pretty much consisted of either land acquisition or litigation, suing people. And I really said, look, we need more than that. Conservation doesn’t just happen when you change the name on the deed. How can we really work toward developing private lands conservation programs? Well, that was right down my alley because, look, that’s what Senator Cochran loved to do. He served and then eventually chaired the Senate Agriculture Committee. So it was really a natural fit for how we could, basically, form an organization, and really go in and look at it. It not only just improving, but really developing a lot of the private land conservation programs in Mississippi. If I go out west and I love to go out west to elk hunt, pronghorn hunt, hunt brown bear, hunt mountain goat, and a bunch of crazy things I’d like to do in the past, that I’m not sure my body is in the health that, it needs to do that anymore especially on the goat side. We see a lot of public lands. Being in Mississippi, you’re about 90% private land. So if I look back at kind of the history of our state in terms of, it’s not just why is it important from because such large percentage is private, but it’s important because wildlife don’t read trespassing signs, they don’t know land boundaries. And if we’re going to try to control the totally, out of control wild hog problem that we have in Mississippi. If I look at the Senate, this bill that’s passed the Senate, it prohibits private lands, and it prohibits any nonprofits for participating. How are we going to controlling wild hogs without working with the private landowner? But I’ve looked back in the state, it kind of have a lot of success stories and probably the greatest private land success story is, our Deer Management Assistance Program.
Ramsey Russell: Absolutely.
James Cummins: Back when I was in high school at Greenville High School, I hunted on my grandparent’s property around Winona and got to hunt on some of the Mississippi River Clubs when I was invited. And we all shooting 1.5-year-old basket rack buck. It was kind of the thing that was kind of what we all did. Frankly couldn’t have been happier at the time. But if you look at where we were now and what the great success of D map, the acronym for the program. Move fast forward till today, we’re putting more bucks in the Boone and Crockett record book than ever before because of good scientific wildlife management, good support by private landowners, good support by hunters that are hunting on public lands. We’ve increased the quality of our deer herd in the state. Sure, we were fumbling the ball a little bit with chronic wasting disease. But, hey, there’s a lot of efforts going on. Even today, I had a conversation with folks at the US Department of Agriculture in Washington about trying to, is the new administration is moving forward. You know how important it is that we could get a hold of CWD. But my point is, here’s an example of a private lands program that so many people can understand and relate to. This is not about paying for some wealthy person’s food plot. This is about trying to put conservation on the ground, work at it, and work on it with a variety of different people, whether they like to deer hunt, duck hunt, turkey hunt. Try to improve water quality in a stream. I mean, look, everything in Mississippi runs south to the Gulf. We have a great Gulf of Mexico fisheries. Whether it’s from a recreational perspective or the many hundreds of millions of dollars in our state seafood industry pumps into our state’s economy. And every drop of water that runs off of whether, it’s the homie National Wildlife Refuge or soybean field beside it, that’s owned by the private landowner impacts the water quality that we have in the Gulf of Mexico. So it’s so important that we look at this as they combined interest, both private lands and public lands.
Ducks Doing Ducky things and How to Manage That
Ramsey Russell: Because everybody’s a stakeholder and I think of ducks for example, to reinforce what you’re saying. Ducks don’t just live on a 1000-acre, 2000-acre 3000-acre property. They fly, they fly many many miles, 50 to 100 miles a day, going back and forth and doing ducky things. And the more management, more quality habitat you have, whether we’re talking white tail deer, D map, where we’re talking waterfowl management, my heartbeat, all of society and all of the region benefits from good quality habitat management. And you know James, to get into the meat of this House Bill. It seemed to me, because I was also in the wildlife field briefly, state DNR’s are like the stepchild of any state and when it comes to state funding, they always get the leftovers, they always get the crumbs. And talking about our state parks being $147 million in the backlog, need to do is, that’s just the start of it all, is the tip of the iceberg. It’s like, there’s never enough money to do what we need to do. It seems like, especially without NGOs like y’all and others, but there’s never enough money to create quality hunting opportunities and quality experiences. There’s not enough demands on public land are ginormous. Now it’s John asking anybody that hunts public land, there’s two, we need more land, we need more quality management, we need money to make that will turn. What does House Bill 1231 do to that end? As proposed not as it’s sitting right now, but as proposed. What does that bill propose? And it’s important, I’m going to say to go back on point said, you’re talking about diverting sales tax. You’re not talking about adding sales tax or tax. And nobody, this is coming from an existing tax base and making great use of it for conservation.
James Cummins: Absolutely. Hunters and anglers currently pay more sales tax than any user group out there. If you look at a shotgun or a fishing rod, 10% of that already goes as part of the federal aid and Wildlife Restoration or The Sport Fish Restoration Act. I mean, everybody knows, Dingell Johnson is The Sport Fish Restoration Act and Pittman Robertson is The Wildlife Restoration Act. But I bet, a lot of Mississippians don’t know that of the Pittman Robertson Bill, it was introduced in the United States Senate by a person, by the name of Senator Key Pittman. Senator Key Pittman was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
Ramsey Russell: I did not know that.
James Cummins: So one of our nation’s finest wildlife laws and what pays for 75% of all the wildlife conservation efforts that go through our state wildlife agency was actually written and conceptualized by a Mississippian. So we have a great stake in this. But kind of looking and when we finish this, I want to mention about just kind of the economic impact of hunting in England. Because oftentimes, I don’t think we talk about things the way that legislators understand. But if I look at what speaker gun and others introduced on the House side, Scott Bounds, Trey Lamar, several others, it did. That particular bill involved government agencies, it involved the nonprofit sector, involved private landowners. And basically, what it did was, as you mentioned, 1% we pay a 7% sales tax. So it would be a diversion, 1% goes to this fund, 6% would go into the general treasury. That’s not a big number. Mississippi’s rainy-day account is already right at $500 million. It plussed up, we’ve got a surplus of dollars in this state. And we’re asking for out of $500 million, we’re asking for $15 million. I’m not smart enough to do the percent real quick in my head, but that’s not a big number. If you look at the variety of federal funds that exist out on the landscape, there’s about $7 billion out there that are being provided for private land conservation through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Us and the Nature Conservancy, and Ducks Unlimited, a number of us worked really hard on the Great American Outdoors Act getting perpetual and mandatory funding for the landing Water Conservation Fund. That’s $900 million dollars a year itself. Ducks Unlimited, TNC again, work hard on the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, that’s $65 million dollars a year. All these are grant funds. So you’re looking at about $7 billion out there that are available, that we can put an application for and apply for funding. Well, you’ve got a coalition of really good organizations in the state that are constantly, we have a lot of federal funding out there. A lot of our former like, Senator Cochran and our current Senator worker, good members on the House side created these programs for us to utilize, but we can’t access them because they’ll say, okay. And I like to always give the example of, give me a quarter and somebody give me a quarter. And I hand them back a dollar. And I said, how do you like that? And he goes, man, that was pretty fun. I said, you want to do it again? And they said, yeah, I like that. Well, that’s how this works. The federal government puts up 75% for the most part on how these programs work. But they required, for either non federal or private funds to put up 25%. The problem is we have a hard time in a poor state with a wealth of natural resources, we have a hard time coming up with the 25%. So what this fund does is, it creates a mandatory fund. So it’s not subject to an annual appropriations committee. It’s automatic every year, that 1%. And that’s the house version now. But that 1% goes into this fund, creates about 15 million a year. You know, if we had 15 million bucks that we can match, hey, it doesn’t take long and we match that with another $45 million, recognizing the federal government kicking in $3, and we’re kicking in $1. We have a $60 million dollar pot. The groups that are in our coalition right now, have $171 million of projects ready to go. You heard the term shovel ready? These are shovel ready. They’re ready to go there.
Current Mississippi Projects that Support Waterfowl & Wildlife
Ramsey Russell: Give the listeners an example of projects in the state of Mississippi that would benefit them.
James Cummins: So I’ll give you. Here’s one project that we are particularly in – I’ll give several. I know the Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks is working on a project to improve waterfowl habitat on Delta National Forest. What they basically need is pumps. They need two or three additional pumps where they can install those pumps, use some of the existing levee structure, create some green tree reservoirs. And hey, we’ve got a lot of great waterfowl habitat. It’s like you were talking earlier about migratory birds. The better shape we send these birds, the better health they are in the wintering grounds. And we send them back right before they breed and start popping eggs out on the prairies and in the northern United States and Canada. More eggs are going to be producing, and the better health and better those chicks are, and the more birds we’re going to have returning south for our next season. So that’s one example. Wildlife Mississippi is working on an area called The Fannye Cook Natural Area. It’s in Flowood. We own 3000 acres in the heart of Jackson and we’re trying to raise funds to build some infrastructure of visitor centers, hiking trails, biking trails. We’re coming off of COVID. Would have been great if we had this in place, where people could get out, get exercise. Hey, look at me, I’m not exactly the poster child for health. I’m about 20 pounds overweight, maybe 30, but just, 20 maybe, we can agree to that. That’s just not being, not getting enough physical activity in the state is costing absentee rates to go up. It’s costing people to have cardiac problems. Having places where we can teach kids in Jackson. And other places that may or not have had, parents that have grown up in the outdoors and taking them hunting and fishing or hiking or kayaking or canoeing, we’re shooting the rifle or bow. Having places where they can go experience the outdoors and really learn that, hey, heat doesn’t come from a furnace, it comes from the woods and a tree, looking at that tree, and going, hey, I bet, you didn’t know if you look at all the forest in the nation, what forests sequester more carbon than any forest in the country? Mississippi ranks number one. Hey, we’re not number 50, we’re number one, you know? But trying to teach kids about things like that. That’s another example of improving water quality. How can we improve water quality going into Ross Barnett Reservoir. So when the city of Jackson begins to treat their water for drinking water supplies, you reduce the cost of water treatment. Hey, and you’ve got a lot better water quality for crappy and Bass that we all to love to chase in Barnett. So there are a lot of things that we can do that. We just don’t have those matching funds to go after those federal funds with.
Ramsey Russell: And we could do it with this. Where did it get bogged down? Where did it get bogged down between the house and becoming as good and wonderful bill? We don’t have to get in the story of details, but how did it get bogged down? Why did it get bogged down? Because I really want to know how anybody listening in the state of Mississippi can become involved.
How Can We Get Involved in Mississippi Conservation Projects?
Like I said, we in conservation, we don’t do a good job talking about that, but I think we’ve got to do a lot better job of trying to convey the economic impact of what hunting, fishing, birdwatching and just generally enjoying the outdoors in Mississippi is really all about. And how can we use that to make our state a better place?
James Cummins: If I look to the Senate side, I see okay, they have stripped out all private conservation. They’ve stripped out anything involving a nonprofit. And they really don’t like mandatory funding. They don’t like that we’ve got a diversion of 1% going to this particular fund.
Ramsey Russell: A year mark pot that we can draw from.
James Cummins: That’s right. Well, I sometimes don’t like a diversion either. I don’t like having to write a check to the state of Mississippi come April. But hey, I do that. That’s good for the state, but I also expect them to use those funds wisely. So I get not liking a diversion because I’m one of those to some extent. And I bet most of your listeners are as well. But look, if we’re going to be diverting money out of our own billfolds and our own wallets to improve the state of Mississippi, we need to be putting money in investing it back in, into the state. I’ll hit on some of that in a minute. But it’s gotten bogged down on the diversion on private lands and non-profits. I remember, I mentioned, LQC Lamar, he told a story one time. It was some boats in Savannah Harbor, back during the period of the Civil War. He said, some of the sailors said, let’s move forward with our ship. And the sailor that was up in the mass looking out said, hey, we shouldn’t go, there’s enemy boats up there. And they all disagreed. But the captain of the ship paid attention to what the sailor, the lowest person in the hierarchy said. And turned out, there were enemy ships up there. And the point I’m trying to make is, hey, these are some very smart people that we have as our Lieutenant Governor and as Senators in the state. But I think, we in the conservation community are kind of like that sailor that was up the mass. We’re in a little bit better position to see what’s best for Mississippi. This is what we do every day. Every member of this coalition, they’re all from Mississippi. They were born and raised here from Houston to Greenville to Oxford, Amory. We choose to live here, to raise our families here. We care about this state. We didn’t move off somewhere. We love this state. We want to make it better. We’re all professionals. If I’m the Senate, I’m looking at a lot of accountants and saying, hey, give us advice on how to structure a new income tax code. Well, that’s what we’re doing, that’s our role when it comes to conservation. Every one of us are professionals, every one of us have great financial records. We go through audits, we spend money wisely, we spend our time putting conservation on the ground and trying to make this state a better place to live, work and raise a family and we’ll continue to do that. But I think, it’s kind of like, the example I gave with the sailor. I do think we’re in a better position. But sometimes, I don’t think we as ourselves do a great job. I mean, we talk about improving water quality, we talk about controlling wild hogs, we talk about shooting bigger deer. You and I love to talk about that, but there’s a big segment of Mississippi, I’m not sure they totally get that. But what I think does resonate is, if you really look at, how does – what we do in our interest, how important is that to the state from a standpoint of jobs, from the standpoint of its economic impact. And look, we are in economies, that’s not what we’re trying to talk about. But we got to do a better job of that. If you look at just industry revenue, the amount of money that’s spending the outdoors is $7.45 billion in the state. That’s the largest in the state of any industry revenue. If you look at us as an industry, like you look at forestry or agriculture or car manufacturing or whatever, $7.45 billion, and we can’t come up with $15 million dollars a year for a $7.5 billion industry, come on.
Ramsey Russell: Man, for a tiny little state, broke state, 3.5 million citizens like Mississippi. I’m talking about, when you look at this on the 50, it’s not the 1st. $7.5 billion is a lick. That’s incredible.
James Cummins: That’s a big number. That’s a huge number. That’s just a huge number to anybody. And look at what kind of investment in dollars we’re asking the state to make, with this kind of return. If you look at it in terms of consumer spending on sporting goods in the state, it’s $8 billion. Figure the 7% sales tax on that. Almost 80,000 direct jobs, $2.1 billion in annual wages and salaries. And in general, that’s a $620 million in local state tax revenue. Those are big numbers. How can we take this great thing that you and I grew up loving, hunting, fishing being out on the water, walking in nature, just looking the beauty of Mississippi itself? How can we take that and use that to improve our quality of life? Use that to better recruit industry, recruit more tire companies, recruit more car companies, recruit some of the smaller ones that we aren’t supporting with different tax incentives or financial incentives to come to Mississippi. We’ve had a beautiful state, we’re poor, but we’ve got a wealth of natural resources. How can we use those natural resources to make Mississippi’s economy better, to make our overall tax structure or overall tax revenue better? We need to be thinking about things a little bit differently. Like I said, we in conservation, we don’t do a good job talking about that, but I think we’ve got to do a lot better job of trying to convey the economic impact of what hunting, fishing, birdwatching and just generally enjoying the outdoors in Mississippi is really all about. And how can we use that to make our state a better place?
Ramsey Russell: James, how can anybody listening from the state of Mississippi, how can they participate? How can they move this thing along? How can they move this project along? If they’re from the state of Mississippi, what can they do?
James Cummins: Well, kind of what we talked about earlier, a lot of people don’t like to get involved in politics, but hey, we’ve got a lot of people in this country that have fought in wars and they’ve died for the very right for us to have freedom of speech. And that freedom of speech includes talking to a legislator or speaking to the press. You can’t do that in a lot of countries. What people could do, whether you hunt with your fish, or getting ready to go turkey hunting and catching crappy, or whatever, or just enjoy the outdoors, call your Senator, call your House Legislative member of the Mississippi House of Representatives, more importantly, call the Senator, because that’s really where our problems are that we need help with the bill. And ask them, hey, let’s fund this with mandatory money. Let’s include all lands, not just government owned lands. We don’t do a great job of managing our government owned lands now. If I can’t read an editorial today from a lady in North Mississippi and Baldwin and she said, if I can’t take care of my dog, why would I want to go buy another one? And I think that’s so true is, we don’t do a good job of taking care of what we own right now. We don’t need to necessarily go buy more land. That’s why I really like the idea of spending money on improving habitat by buying some pumps and putting more water out on the landscape at Delta National. That’s the kind of things we need to be doing. There may be some people that, they don’t like nonprofits. But I can tell you the reason. I heard that they were excluded because, well, they’ve done some things financially that we don’t like. Well, let me tell you this. When I read the news and talk about and I see agencies or organizations that have done wrong in the state, I read about the Department of Corrections, I read about the Department of Human Services, or I read about the Department of Marine Resources. Not once have I seen Ducks Unlimited or the Nature Conservancy of Wildlife Mississippi or any other myriad of great conservation organizations that we’ve had in the state. They’re not on that list. We’re really skilled in grant writing and project delivery, and raising and bringing money to the table. We’re not trying to profit, we’re trying to make Mississippi better by doing this. That’s what we were organized to do. So if we’re looking at trying to deliver other services in the state, how would you try, how would you deliver improving human services if you didn’t have any number of nonprofit food banks that we have in the state? My wife has a program where she pays for the processing of venison and it goes to the Ameri Food Bank, that helps us control deer, reduce our numbers, increase our herd quality and it helps out a lot of people that really need a protein. How could you do that without the nonprofit sector? So we need to make sure that, in summary, on the bill at the nonprofit sector back, if you’re concerned about them, make them require out, add all kinds of financial restrictions that will help you build a better project and safeguard the taxpayer dollars. If it’s a bad actor, it’s simple, don’t fund them. Add back in private lands. We need to have a complete system of conservation. We don’t need to be trying to spend 100% of the money on 10% of land base. That doesn’t make good sense to me. And I don’t think it makes good sense to the citizens of the state either. We need mandatory money. We don’t need to have to go every year. And all of these groups I mentioned, spending our time lobbying the legislature. We’re going to put in habitat on the ground. We’re not great at lobbying. Let us do what we’re good at. Pick a good board, Lieutenant governor. The governor can appoint board members. If I’m pretty sure, if they’ll appoint wise board members, there’ll be a wise expenditure of dollars.
Ramsey Russell: Absolutely, James. I know you’re a busy man and I thank you, for breaking away from your schedule today to come and talk about this very important program. You’ve been listening folks, to James Cummins of Wildlife Mississippi. We’ve been talking about House Bill 1231 Mississippi Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund. Still talking about the House Bill but 1231 Mississippi Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund. And I want you to hear from my friends and associates, Ed Penny, who is director of public policy Southern region, Ducks Unlimited. And our sidekick Mr. Alex Littlejohn, who is State Director of Nature Conservancy. How are you guys doing?
A Big Win: House Bill 1231, Mississippi Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund
…I want to make a better place, and specifically, a better place for ducks.
Ed Penny: Doing great man. This is this is fun.
Ramsey Russell: Ed, you walked in with some good news, seemed like this bill has passed or what’s the status of this bill right now as of stand.
Ed Penny: Well, we just got a great result today on the Mississippi Senate floor. The Senate passed our bill, House Bill 1231, without objection. So no one opposed setting up an Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund in our state. It’s a big win.
Ramsey Russell: That’s a big win and where does it go now?
Ed Penny: Well, there are some differences in between the House version and the Senate version of the bill. And since there are differences, now it comes time to negotiate all those differences in what’s called conference.
Ramsey Russell: Negotiating conference.
Ed Penny: Yes, sir. Duke it out. The fun starts now.
Ramsey Russell: Let’s back up just a little bit. I want y’all to introduce yourselves, like I know you. As duck hunters and stuff like that. Who are you? Where you from? What’s your background? Let’s talk about some good stuff duck hunting. There we go. Who are you?
Ed Penny: You want to go first? Okay, well. Ramsey, we share a university. I’m a proud alumnus of Mississippi State University. I got two degrees from there, both in waterfowl management and wildlife science. We share a lot of the same background and roots. I’m from North Mississippi. I’m born and raised here in Mississippi and care a lot about it. But I’m a waterfowl biologist by trade and started out in waterfowl management, took me to the great central valley of California. I know you just got back from there. So a lot of the places and people that you talk to and got to hunt with, I cut my teeth there too, right out of college, and then right out of grad school, but worked across the country, came back home to Mississippi, because I want to make a better place, and specifically, a better place for ducks.
Ramsey Russell: Sure, we need it.
Ed Penny: We do need it and we still need. And it’s nothing to be taken for granted. But I was a waterfowl biologist at the Department of Wildlife for several years and kind of moved up into different administrative roles, and then decided to start working on public policy and what that means for waterfowl and wetland conservation across the country. So I am fortunate to be working for Ducks Unlimited now.
Ramsey Russell: How about yourself Alex?
Alex Littlejohn: I’m just another bulldog at the table.
Ramsey Russell: Oh boy, we got a Mississippi State continuously here.
Alex Littlejohn: That’s right. I’m the odd one out. I’m from rebel country, I’m from Ole Miss County, I’m from Oxford Mississippi. My family has been there since about 1845, and it’s a funny story. My grandfather on my mother’s side was the lone bulldog in the family and he always would introduce me as the one grandchild out of 15 that found the Lord. And apparently, I found the Lord because, I’d gone to Mississippi State. And I have to admit, my brother, he also found the Lord. He came on board too. And my youngest brother, he went to Ole Miss and that’s okay. You got to see some incredible parts of the world traveling with all this baseball team.
Ramsey Russell: What’s your degree in the Mississippi State?
Alex Littlejohn: I got two degrees like Ed described, we just couldn’t leave the place. But my undergrad was Wildlife Science, Wildlife Management, much like it. And then my master’s degree was more wetland ecology based.
Ramsey Russell: Wow. It’s good to hear.
Alex Littlejohn: A lot of overlap there. And just a washed-up dog trainer, amateur duck guide and I’ve just been outdoors most of my life. And when it came to duck hunting, I mean, at the end of the day, nothing else mattered. We didn’t turkey hunt a lot growing up, because we don’t have turkeys in Lafayette County. We do now. They’re walking through my parent’s front yard, they were non-existent. Growing up, we fished a lot on Sawdust Lake and did a lot of catfish and crappy fishing, bass fishing, did a lot of small pastor pond stuff. Much like most little Mississippi boys did growing up. But I didn’t leave the state much like Ed did. Ed broadened his horizons. I deepened my roots in Mississippi. I would almost tell you, they wouldn’t let me outside this state.
Ramsey Russell: Well, I’ll tell you this. Now that you mentioned, that the more I travel and I love to travel. I love to see parts of the USA part of the world. But the deeper my roots get to Mississippi, the more I gained perspective to deepen my roots. Getting this one thing, we’ve all got in common, I just learned is that, we’ve all got Mississippi state degrees in Wildlife Management. And we all grew up in Mississippi, which our experiences end up in a “poor state” that is utterly blessed in natural resources, led us to our career path, led us to this table right now. Speak a little bit. How did y’all get into hunt? Speak just a little bit about hunting, fishing, growing up.
Alex Littlejohn: You go first.
A Common Heritage
I didn’t want to be any doing anything else that didn’t involve friends and family in a duck blind.
Ed Penny: Well, Alex is always better at storytelling than me. So he gets to clean up. But we all share that, it’s a common heritage because it’s genuine, it’s legitimate and it’s not storytelling, it’s real. I grew up hunting with my dad. We used to go every Saturday. He was a minister, so he didn’t hunt on Sundays, but we hunted on every single Saturday whether it was squirrels or deer. And later on we learned how to turkey hunt together and I didn’t grow up duck hunting. It came to me later in high school and into college. Kind of, in the glory days of the late 90s, when duck populations were through the roof. But we hunted and fished every single weekend and just being outside, watching the woods wake up, whether you’re in a tree stand or duck blind or listening to a turkey gobble after an owl hoots, nothing can replace that.
Ramsey Russell: And that connection.
Ed Penny: It’s absolutely a connection to the place in Mississippi. It’s a connection to the critters that we love it. It’s a connection with the people that we get to share with. We can talk about this for hours tonight. I know we don’t have that much time, but we all have that common bond and even though we all went to Mississippi State, we’d have the same common bond with somebody from California, Minnesota, Montana, Texas, Maine, New York, Massachusetts. And that’s what we all share and that’s what we got to take care of. And I think, as Mississippians and this kind of going off on a trail here, but we take it for granted. We take that common heritage and that bond for granted. And what we’re trying to do with this bill and so many other things that we get to work together on, is make sure our kids, other families in Mississippi, the people that we do not know but share the same bond, we want to make that happen for them too.
Ramsey Russell: Absolutely. What’s your story Alex?
Alex Littlejohn: Well, growing up in Oxford, Sardis Lake was right there and I’m sure Ramsey you know this. At one time, there was a pretty strong contingent of Canada goose hunters and starts like, there was a great migration there, and my dad grew up cutting his teeth on that on those mudflats at Sardis hunting what we call the north line with my great uncle. He was an interesting character too. That particular individual had unfortunately lost a leg in a wreck and he could still out pull on those mudflats, outrace my daddy to a whole and Sardis Lake with one leg. And my dad had two good legs and was, plus younger. So I always tell that story. He was a remarkable guy. But when that migration, kind of changed over time, a lot of those individuals from Oxford and those families that grew up goose hunting, they migrated back to the Delta and started duck hunting. Frankly, I told Ed this one time before, that my dad had an old CJ 7 Jeep and I just got tired of getting left at the house and I’d go sneak out into the CJ 7 Jeep. And those things are kind of loud. Old jeeps were real loud so you’d hear it crank up and he’d come back inside, be getting coffee or getting the dog or whatever and I’d just go crawling back of deep hide and we’d be headed west, get about based on highway six and I’d pop up. And sometimes, dang, they’re scared to death. And it just that grew into a passion. I didn’t want to be anywhere else. I didn’t want to be in a deer stand. I didn’t want to be any doing anything else that didn’t involve friends and family in a duck blind. And I’ve been blessed to have seen the sunrise over many great decoy spreads and many different landscapes across Mississippi Delta, in Arkansas and Louisiana as well. But I always say that for some reason, the duck blind has remained the great equalizer. Yeah, you can have bankers, and you can have banker next to a plumber, next to a janitor, next to investment banker on the other side and every one of are duck hunters.
Ramsey Russell: Everyone are duck hunters. And don’t you all look at that time there, or you don’t ever imagine growing up right in back of CJ or going to Mississippi state and haunting the halls, did you ever dream that sometime in the future will be somewhere like today, the three of us? I never dreamed this when I was young and didn’t dream it 5-10 years ago. Did you ever dream you’d be embroiled in politics? I mean, seriously, did it ever cross your mind when you’re sitting there, learning then geology or one that imagine that one? So that one day this, something like a House Bill and this whole embroilment going on over this House Bill, that you would be in the middle of it and advocating fiercely for the passing of a House Bill? Did it ever dawn on you?
Alex Littlejohn: I would tell you, we ran into these careers to get away from that kind of stuff.
Ramsey Russell: Yes Sir. 100%.
Standing Up for What’s Right: The Conservation Fight
The American conservation model is unprecedented globally.
Alex Littlejohn: But if you’re a duck hunter out there, you’ve got to realize much of the foundation that you’ve enjoyed and experienced as a duck hunter in these areas, that’s happening in those capitals, in your state. That’s happening in DC. You may not consider yourself political in nature or a politician, but you need to pay attention to it, because stuff like this is coming along.
Ramsey Russell: Especially after the last year, with the election and watching Fox News and all that kind of stuff. I mean, everybody and I understand, everybody says, well, I hate politics. I don’t like politics, I don’t want to be involved in politics. We ain’t talking heads on Fox news, talking each other over republican democrat. Man, we’re talking about something that touches and affects not only our lives as Mississippians, but the lives of our kids and grandkids. I mean, born and raised, one of the reasons I did not take a job with Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fish and Parks, they couldn’t pay. They didn’t have a budget to take care of the talented people. They were bringing out a university kid to go to work for them. I’m not dogging them, I’m saying, I have got tremendous respect and gratitude to Mississippi Department of Wildlife in part for what they have done on, an otherwise shoestring budget for the state of Mississippi. But there’s a red headed step child, when it comes to state funding. And I think the same could be said for your DNR sitting in California or Delaware or anywhere else around the country. They always catch the less. And it’s not just the game animals, deer and turkeys and ducks that’s coming out of the budget. It’s butterflies and pollinator habitat and walking trails. They’re having to do more to do this. And all of a sudden, wow, we’ve got this bill in the state of Mississippi, which is not unique, man, it’s all around us. We’re going to speak to that. That could all of a sudden transform our blessings into tremendous hunting opportunities and benefits for the wildlife resource. I’m sure that’s why you’ll are fighting the fight for.
Ed Penny: Yeah, let me speak to that a little bit. I’ve been around the policy world for a few years now and get to work in just a few, not many, I’m still a young man, relatively speaking. But it’s an amazing opportunity to talk about conservation at the level that we’re at right now in Mississippi. Too often to your point Ramsey, having worked at the state agency and worked in conservation for a while, we’re coming up in last place and on the priority list. We get held hostage. Our issues, which are always bipartisan, always bipartisan. Republicans support us, democrats support us, all politicians and elected officials say they support natural resources and the things that we care about. Too often we get pushed down to the bottom of the list. There’s other issues in Mississippi and a lot of other states. There’s a legitimate prior infrastructure.
Ramsey Russell: Infrastructure. There’s always important buzz things going around besides wildlife.
Ed Penny: Conservation though, it’s a moral issue and it is a social issue, it’s a value that we all share. And honestly, I’m getting more than a little tired of coming in at the end of the list. And that’s what’s fun about this issue is, we’re actually debating this on the floor of the Senate, and the floor of the House, and the officers of elected officials to tell them why this is important to the state. And when Alex talks about people paying attention, our hunters and anglers sometimes pay attention, but we take it for granted. We’re worried about firearm issues and that’s all important. But until we take care of the things that support our hunting and fishing opportunities to support duck hunting, that support agriculture and forestry, we’re not going to be in a good place as a state or as a country. And we’ve got a pretty dang strong heritage in our country. People from different parties speaking up, and speaking out, and standing up for what’s right. And this is one of those times, and we can do that.
Alex Littlejohn: It’s a breath of fresh air in a day and time when everything seems to be so divisive, conservation rarely is. I would almost add that, your everyday, what I would call, I grew up a weekend warrior, duck hunter, deer hunter, working 9-5, really looking forward to that Saturday, Sunday time out in the outdoors or on the lake, on a pond with their family or by themselves. You probably don’t know what contributions you’re making the to the greater conservation effort. I mean a lot of people don’t know about the portion of funds when you buy ammo, or when you buy a farm that’s going back to support conservation on public lands, or when you buy a duck stamp. You know what you is doing with those funds and where it’s going because it’s the foundation of the North American model that has made, really, it’s unprecedented in my opinion, what the US has done. But it’s built on the backs of hunters. So it’s technically, for hunters, by a hunter’s model, that’s been so aggressively successful. And the average individual out there fishing and hunting, I can almost promise you they don’t know what they’re contributing to.
Ramsey Russell: The American conservation model is unprecedented globally.
Alex Littlejohn: Yeah, I mean, you know that. You see it.
Ramsey Russell: There’s nobody, nowhere even second a close second. It’s like the rabbit and hare. They’re miles behind us. I’m doing this thing and as James Comey’s pointed out, through stuff like the Pittman Robertson Act, we hunters are paying more. We’re paying more and we’re gladly paying more.
Alex Littlejohn: We don’t mind. We’re gladly paying more.
Ramsey Russell: We’re gladly paying more to do this thing, right here. So when something comes down the pipe that could so revolutionize our state or any other state that’s adopted a program, I don’t understand why it got bogged down. Let’s talk about this right here. What could the state of Mississippi do with the kind of funding we’re talking about? I don’t have those numbers right in front of me. But I saw a timeline, it’s like the first year it might be like, $10 or $15 million, the second year it might be a little bit more. And then, we get into faking leverage it. Like I’m looking at a map, there’s $15 million in Alabama, $20 million in Georgia, $12 million in South Carolina, $25 million in the state of Tennessee for examples. But that’s not their spending amount. What they’re able to do is, leverage it into far more. So tell me, how this leveraging, how do you convert, if the state of Mississippi gets $10 or $20 million, how do they convert it? And then, what would be the benefits that anybody listening in the state of Mississippi or in a state that has this program, how would they benefit from this? You can tag team that you want to talk.
Alex Littlejohn: Me and we’ve done so much of this now. We try to look at each other to see, all right, who’s going to take it? But the way you leverage that, in turn. Let’s just go to Georgia, $20 million that they dedicated a year ago. They turned $20 million into $100 million. And what they did was essentially, take it and use it as match against federal sources of funds for conservation. Whether it be land and water Conservation fund which is out there, it could be a Pittman Robertson effort, it could be a NAWCA effort which is, North American Wildlife Conservation Act. That is where your duck stamp dollars are going. It could be a number of different parts, it could be the Farm Bill, a lot of those private land conservation efforts on Farm Bill require a D.U. and/or a T.N.C and/or a Delta Wildlife Mississippi Conservation Fund. Whoever it may be to come to the table with some match. They want you to have just a little skin in the game. Well, a Georgian said, okay, we’ve got $20 million and here’s our skin in the game. And they were successful in turning that into $100 million. They literally leveraged almost $80 million dollars in one year on a $20 million dollar investment. And Mississippi can do the same. Ed works for not putting words in his mouth, but he’s, man, this guy stretched from New Mexico to South Carolina. He can tell you more examples that I cannot. I work heavily with the Gulf states. I work up and down the Mississippi River which is the Central Flyway. The states that are most successful in receiving and expanding public funding opportunities in their state and really moving the needle on conservation, they have a state-dedicated pot of funds. And they’re able to really be strategic and planning long term. Because me and Ed can come together and say, hey look, let’s put together a five-year plan, DUTNC and let’s go move the needle on the Mississippi. You’ve got your wetland components, your waterfowl components that you want. I’ve got the water quality, water quantity components, and habitat. There’s so many mutual interests that me and Ed can get together. That’s two entities, and it’s not just us individuals, there’s a lot, there’s a bigger team there. But we can put together a five-year plan and we can implement that sucker because we know that every year for the next five years, we’re going to more or less have $15 million, $20 million coming if we had a state funding pot to do this. Which is what House Bill 1231 would do.
Ramsey Russell: And you and I know from personal experience, that NGOs like yourself could streamline it and put it on the ground more quickly because you don’t have the bureaucracy attached. State and federal agencies.
Alex Littlejohn: That’s right. And Ed you do a great job. You gave a great example. I wish you’d give an example on private lands as far as going to DU versus a federal pot.
Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program
I mean, it’s generational, it’s strategic, it would move the needle so far for Mississippi.
Ramsey Russell: What I was saying before we got started was, way back in the old days, when I was working for US Fish and Wildlife Service, we built waterfowling ponds, we did restoration, we had public facilities things of that nature. We would apply for funding and it would take a year or more before that funding request went through regional, got approved. Went through national, got approved. They deducted percent. The code of regional, they deduct percent. It finally comes back to me and I’m ready to put habitat on the ground. Two years later, income to partnership like Southern Regional Office of Ducks Unlimited, that could put it on the ground today at a cooperative partner. Today, not two years from now. Right now.
Alex Littlejohn: Well, so that’s private land example. I’ll give you a public for example. So three years ago – Ed knows this.
Ramsey Russell: That was in refuges.
Alex Littlejohn: That’s right. That’s okay. That’s public. And the same goes for, a lot of people know about the CRP program in the farm. So inside the Farm Bill, there’s also built in, a Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. They call it CREP. And that requires a partner to bring 20% match to the table. But for 20 cents on the dollar, the USDA will say, hey, we’ll give you 80 cents. So about three or four years ago, TNC Mississippi found the match necessary, match identified and put all the plans together. And we opened that door to Mississippi, from the federal side to deliver that money down to Mississippi. It’s the first time CREP had ever been on the ground. And we were able to do it in a manner that some public agencies couldn’t. Because we were able to provide the match. But absolutely. I mean, DU and us and TNC, and Wildlife Mississippi, and a number of others out there, Delta Wildlife, we act as conduits. I mean we’re vehicles. We are catalysts. And look, we’re not making any money off of it at the end of the day. I mean, our reports will show you. For every dollar, there’s probably 85-87 cents. I’ve always watched that. It stays pretty consistent. For every dollar, it’s going to be about 85 cents on the dollar, goes to the ground from our opportunity. We’re nonprofits, we can’t make a profit. We’re not allowed to. We’re not here to make money. We’re here to put conservation on the ground. And by God, we’re pretty dang good at it. I mean, both of these entities right here, I’d put our track records up against anybody, at the end of the day.
Ramsey Russell: Ed, real quickly talk about, there’s a duck hunting program. Talk about some of the benefits this program might benefit a duck hunter listening.
Ed Penny: Well, that’s a great question. And that’s where my heart does lie. Working for Ducks Unlimited, having the background there. You mentioned, North American Wetland Conservation Act. Alex mentioned, Land Water Conservation Fund. There’s state and federal duck stamp dollars, there’s the Farm Bill. And we’re talking a lot about money here, Ramsey. But at the end of the day, we’re talking about habitat on the ground. Habitat that I get to hunt, and you get to hunt, that your listeners get to hunt. Whether it’s on public or private land, ducks do not care. They do not care if it’s public or private.
Ramsey Russell: Habitat is habitat. James and I talked about a little bit about that, Ed. But I’ve heard around the country, some people bristle, well, that’s just going on private land, no, no, no. A duck don’t live on 3000 acres. He lives in 100 miles, 200 miles radius, plus or minus a climatic event. I mean, habitat is habitat. And I can remember, y’all know Kaminsky having gone.
Alex Littlejohn: Who is that fella now? You spoke so fondly of this individual.
Ramsey Russell: I remember him ask that, why does Arkansas have so many more ducks than Mississippi? Because surface acres of habitat, private, state, federal, it’s all the same. So go ahead.
Alex Littlejohn: I mean, I can’t remember where we were, but what is this going to mean for ducks?
Ed Penny: Because he said, Kaminsky, that’s why he lost all track there.
Alex Littlejohn: I got a little, I’ll track there. I hope he hears this podcast. What Eric, so what does it mean for ducks? It simply means, more places for ducks to land. It means, more places for hunters to hunt. It means more places for land managers to manage, whether you’re a duck club manager in the Mississippi Delta or you’re an MDWPW manager. We need resources. We talked a lot about state agencies. And as waterfowl biologist and on the Flyway Council for a long time, the number one reason people have problems or there’s a barrier to go in duck hunting is a place to go. This Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund, House Bill 1231 will help solve that problem by making the existing WMAs better that we have in the state. Because we will be able to manage habitat better. We’ll be able to make more habitat through Ducks Unlimited, or Nature Conservancy, or any of our other partners doing work on the ground. It will make that habitat more available to ducks and to duck hunters. And the same thing for private lands. Farm Bill offers billions for private landowners, but often the limiting factor is that nonfederal or private match. That’s an accounting thing and I hate talking about money all the time, but that’s the answer. Land managers, landowners, private landowners, these are not wealthy people. These are the people that go to church with us, they go to school with us, they go to baseball with us, they hunt with us. Nobody hunts just private land or public land all the time. They hunted all they go where the ducks are. What we’re trying to do is, provide more resources for ducks and duck hunters to enjoy or to be able to benefit from. If Ed and I opened up a program in Mississippi and we say, look, send us all the projects that you want to see funded. I can promise you, we will exceed the availability of funds in the first round. It never fails. Anytime a pot of funds becomes available, the need so far exceeds that. I mean, just the entities involved in the coalition that’s pushing House Bill 1231 and really getting behind it, Delta Council, Delta Wildlife, Ducks Unlimited, The Foundation of Wildlife Fishing and Parks, Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Mississippi, just us together, we’re able to put together $200 million worth of projects that we’re working on right now. I mean, that’s just in the state of Mississippi that is in the boundaries inside the state of Mississippi only. And I would tell you, I would not be hard pressed that we couldn’t sit down and double that amount if we really put the time to it. That’s just what we’re working on right now, where the need is right now.
Ramsey Russell: That’s public land acquisitions, that’s improved habitat quality, on private ramps, that disability access, that’s hiking and fishing trails.
Alex Littlejohn: City parks, walking trails, working with Air Force bases across the board, it is a conservation need that far exceeds the availability of funds. And when you bring forth a House Bill 1231, and you start to lay the foundation and say, hey hook, the state of Mississippi, based on the original text that passed out of the House 117-2. When you say, hey Mississippi, we’re going to invest $15 million every year. As long as we keep generating these funds off the portion, of the sales of sporting good items, we’re going to have $15 million. It’s transformative, it’s life changing, generational. I mean, it’s generational, it’s strategic, it would move the needle so far for Mississippi. Me and Ed can sit here and describe it, but the average individual out there would see it just, boom, right off the bat first year.
Ramsey Russell: Right off the bat first year. And that’s what shocked me. And I can say this, actions speak louder than words. And it surprised me that person or persons in the state of Mississippi sandbag this program. I mean, when they could have just taken the ball run with it and been a hero to all Mississippians, they buried it up in legislation. I don’t understand for the life of me. Change.
Alex Littlejohn: Especially when 75% of Mississippi has shown they’re supportive.
Ramsey Russell: Absolutely. 75% of all Mississippians supported.
Alex Littlejohn: And we can talk about all the groups. All the groups and companies, outdoor and hunting industry folks that support this. It’s unreal. I mean, let’s talk about the companies that are based in Mississippi that are well known to every single duck hunter in this country. And that’s pretty most, there’s Mossy Oak, we’ve got Bass Pro Shops. Don’t forget my dear friend Drake. We’ve got Drake Waterfowl based here. GetDucks.com. We got a letter of support from you, I know. But these are industry giants that typically support conservation issues that support all the US, but it’s unbelievable to watch them be able to support something in the state of Mississippi where they started, where they have grown their business and now they can support something for their own state. Will Primos, Satoshi Hase, and the Tate Wood, and a Ramsey Russell, I promise you, every one of us cut our teeth in the same manner, on the same things that we’ve all described here. And I would dare say, that Mississippi brought you much of what you understand as the outdoor industry today.
Ramsey Russell: Absolutely. And from the hundreds of people, I’ve hunted with, around the country just since September, they cut their teeth on the same thing we did. And they did. I’m going to ask you a question, for anybody listening in the state of Mississippi. What can they do besides sit on the sideline to watch this thing unfold? What can they do to make the needle move on this issue?
Alex Littlejohn: That’s a great question. And they cannot stand on the sidelines, that’s the number one point. These decisions, these votes, do not happen in a vacuum. Our elected officials, and as a Mississippians these folks are supposed to represent me. It’s up to us as duck hunters, as sportsmen, as anglers, as Mississippians, to tell them what we want. They don’t do what they want, they’re supposed to do what we want them to do. And they’re supposed to vote, how we want them to vote. And so we as the outdoor community and conservationists, we can’t let them make these decisions by themselves.
Ramsey Russell: It’s as simple as picking up a telephone.
Alex Littlejohn: It’s as simple as picking up the telephone. And when you see him in a grocery store, at a soccer game or a WMA tell them. First of all, you thank them when they do something right. And they support what you support. And that’s House Bill 1231. We’ve gotten a lot of support from different elected officials. But when folks do not support our issues, we need to ask them why. And we need to tell them, this is important to me as a Mississippian. A zero constituent as one of your voters, you’re supposed to represent me. The original house text that came out of the house on a vote of 117-2 is the most impactful to the state of Mississippi. Call your senator, call your representative. I mean, it is the bill that would change the landscape for conservation and public and private lands for the state of Mississippi.
Ramsey Russell: And for a lot of people from outside the state of Mississippi that I hope are listening to this podcast episode. I’m going to ask you this Alex, what other states besides here in the Deep South, what other states you were telling me, like Minnesota had a program like this, and hundreds of millions of dollars going into what other states do not have a program like this. And somebody listening might say, you know what, I’m fixing to call my state legislator and tell them they need to push this ball.
Alex Littlejohn: I’m not sure all the states that don’t have it. But I know the states that do. Like Minnesota for instance, they’ve got a tremendous amount of money that’s dedicated to state conservation every year that goes to public and private lands that when, if you’re living in Minnesota, it is supporting everything from city parks and walking trails to public recreation opportunities, open the gates to private land that is being leased by the state through these funds for public access. Access to the Mississippi River up there, pull nine in Minnesota is a huge waterfall area. That’s right. I mean, I just went and sat on pull nine one time, about two or three years ago and I just talked to all the boats that come in. If I open my mouth, people know where I’m from. They may not get it on Mississippi. But by God, they know it’s south of the state. But you can find out, if your state has a state dedicated part of funds. And if they don’t, there are organizations like, Nature Conservancy, that I can promise, if you approach them, they would tell you, yeah, we can implement that. We got a plan but we’re going to need your help and the impact it would make for your state, is the same that we would see here in Mississippi. I mean, at no time in our life as a country, have we seen more available federal funds than we do right now that can be put on the ground. At no point in time. I mean that’s through Teddy, that’s through all those, I mean, there are pots of money now available, that the US has said, look, we’re going to invest in conservation and natural resources, but you’ve got to bring some skin to the game. And it’s there for the taking, and it’s there for folks like us and DU and others to put on the ground.
Ramsey Russell: I hunt. I fish, I vote. I don’t have a choice as a gun owner and a duck hunter. I hunt, I fish, I vote. Folks in the state of Mississippi, y’all have got to call your legislator, you’ve got to get behind something like it. It’s going to transform your life for generations to come. Folks outside the state of Mississippi, don’t have a program like this. Hey, look, when you’re out there stringing your decoys and getting ready for next season, put your earbuds in, and it don’t matter if you’re diplomatic, like five horn, leg horn, like myself, call your state representative and let them know you care. If enough of us call, we make the needle move. Thank you all for listening to this episode of Ducks Season Somewhere. You’ve been listening to my friends, Ed Penny with Ducks Unlimited and Alex Littlejohn with Nature Conservancy. We’ll see you next time. Thank you.