Note: The following is an opinion article provided by Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson, who has qualified for reelection to the position.
Mississippians are blessed with great hunting, an abundance of productive farmland, vibrant forests, and pristine bodies of water for fishing and boating. And while I understand not all are outdoor enthusiasts, our natural resources provide a tremendous benefit to our state’s economy, quality of life, and a means to improve human health. The quality of our air, drinking water, and foods we eat, along with the enjoyment provided by nature directly affect our welfare, and all are affected by conservation.
As State Lands Commissioner, trustee of the state’s tidelands, and a lifetime Mississippian, I uphold my duty to safeguard these resources for our posterity and prosperity, which is why I created the Conservation Task Force. Our goal is to not only improve our state’s natural resources but utilize them in a responsible manner to better Mississippi.
According to the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Mississippi’s 782,000 sportsmen spend $2.2 billion per year. Prestigious companies like Primos, Mossy Oak, Nautic Star, Winchester, and countless small businesses equip Mississippians for, and provide access to, a variety of outdoor experiences. Our state provides a great business climate for outdoor-related industries, but we can do more to attract them.
Additionally, outdoor recreation supports 33,584 jobs in our state, not including those in forestry and agriculture (which are directly impacted by sound management practices). Our economy is largely fueled by our natural resources and a more intentional approach toward conservation as an economic driver would result in an economic boom for Mississippi.
The regional declines in the state’s population from the 2020 census is another issue we can address with the utilization of our natural resources. Millennials are leaving our state faster than any other state. We desperately need their talents at home to move our great state forward. This generation is increasingly passionate about the outdoors and is finding more ways to enjoy them through hiking, kayaking, etc. Ensuring current Mississippians and future generations have opportunities for outdoor recreation can enhance quality of life and create a desire to stay in the Magnolia State.
Our state’s natural resources can serve as an economic driver, increase physical and emotional health, and increase affinity for Mississippi. We must expand accessibility to the outdoors and conserve these resources for the future. Efforts are being made to this end through the Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund, on which I have the pleasure of serving as a board member. This, coupled with other efforts by our Conservation Task Force members, is paving the way for a better Mississippi.
Our goal is to establish a comprehensive, statewide conservation plan that unifies all state efforts through a singular vision by tying together the existing action plans from state agencies, federal agencies, institutions of higher learning, and non-governmental organizations to identify the state’s greatest conservation needs. Not only will it serve as an example of what happens when we bring the control silos down, but it will also enable us to select the most impactful and enduring investments in conservation.
Sound, scientifically driven investments in conservation will drive our economy, improve our overall health and well-being, help retain talented young people, and build a better Mississippi. With the necessary funds, talent, and efforts unified under a comprehensive conservation plan, we will see benefits to our state that wouldn’t otherwise be realized. Our Conservation Task Force and I are working to make this a reality. When our efforts bear fruit, the entire state and all Mississippians will benefit for generations to come.