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OPINION

Governor Huckabee Sanders Has a Bold Conservation Agenda

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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Al Drago/Bloomberg, Pool

Since entering office in January, Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R-AR) has raked up major policy wins and delivered the Republican response to the State of the Union address. 

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The first-term governor, currently juggling a busy legislative session and tornado relief efforts, recently spoke with me about her conservation and outdoor recreation priorities. By all accounts, she wants to bring these issues to the forefront.

Huckabee Sanders recently shadowed an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission bear den study- an experience she shared on social media. 

“My husband and I got to take our kids along with the Arkansas Game and Fish team and go out and help check on new baby cubs,” she explained. “There were two cubs that were there. And holding a baby bear cub is about one of the coolest, most fun things that you can do.” 

Bear den studies, funded by monies primarily generated by the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937 through excise taxes collected on firearms and ammunition, have garnered attention in recent weeks. As a result, job listings soliciting applicants to be “bear cub huggers” have gone viral on social media. 

Although holding bear cubs for the ‘gram earns one kudos, there’s a higher purpose underpinning this program: growing Arkansas’ black bear population. Due to the contributions of hunters and shooting sports enthusiasts, black bears have successfully recovered nationally and are listed as “Least Concern” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List. Even the Natural State has seen its population soar in recent years.

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Governor Huckabee Sanders recognizes the contributions of AGFC's wildlife biologists and the role hunters play in managing and conserving the bear population.

“I'm very proud of the fact that through the conservation efforts here in the state of Arkansas,” the governor said. “We have the most successful reintroduction of a large carnivore,” she elaborated. “I think back several decades before this program started there were roughly only 50 bears that they could identify here in the state. And now the population is well north of 5,000. So, a very successful conservation program and a really neat thing to get to be part of. Hold[ing] baby bear cubs is a pretty exciting thing to do.”

In line with supporting conservation efforts, the governor unveiled her Natural State Initiative just after entering office. The intention of the initiative is to boost the outdoor recreation economy. The Bureau of Economic Analysis, a subsidiary of the Commerce Department, reports the outdoor recreation industry supports 4.5 million jobs nationwide and $862 billion annually in economic output. In Arkansas, the outdoor industry supports roughly 40,000 jobs and has a $3.5 billion economic footprint. The governor wants to improve upon these figures and make her state a leader in fishing, hunting, hiking, and camping activities.

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Outdoor recreation, she said, is the second largest industry in her state after agriculture. Her husband, First Gentleman Bryan Sanders, was selected to serve as the initiative’s Advisory Council Chair.

“I'm unbelievably amazed at the beautiful natural landscape that we have here,” she remarked. “I say all the time I'm the chief salesperson of Arkansas. And we have an amazing story to tell. I want people that live here to know the great things we have in our own backyard, as well as people across the country and around the world,  to come here for tourism and see what Arkansas has to offer.” 

Huckabee Sanders hopes this campaign inspires families to stay off screens and seek out the Great Outdoors. 

Yesterday, she signed several bills into law to boost her conservation priorities. New measures and improvements including the following: the creation of four Natural State Initiative Opportunity Zones, streamlining professional service contracts for state parks, and establishing a lifetime fishing and hunting license. 

I then asked if her efforts should be replicated by other elected Republicans. She conveyed to me that all governors - Democrat and Republican - should bolster and enhance outdoor access in their respective states. 

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“Honestly, I hope that it's not just Republican governors enjoying the outdoors,” responded Huckabee Sanders. “Keeping kids off screen shouldn't be a political issue. This is something that everybody, I think, can get behind – whether you're in a red state or a blue state.” 

The governor also previewed some of her family’s upcoming outdoor adventures. 

“My husband and my middle son will be turkey hunting here within the next week. And I'm pretty sure that I'm gonna get dragged down a river at some point here in the next five or six days as well, which I'm looking forward to,” the Arkansas governor explained. “It's nice to get outside of the office and as this session wraps up enjoy some of the Great Outdoors here in Arkansas.” 

Townhall readers can learn more about Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ outdoor recreation priorities here.

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