House Bill 1231 creates the Mississippi Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund. It passed the Mississippi House of Representatives 117-2, which is overwhelming. An amended version has now passed the Senate.

I have spent most of my adult life advocating for Republicans and Republican ideals.  I have spent the last 30 years also advocating for conservation.  The Trust Fund as passed the House is supported by the Republican and Democrat party’s state platforms.  The version pending before the Senate reflects neither party’s platform.

The Mississippi Republican Party’s platform on the environment is a good one.  It states that our natural resources are valuable assets for promoting tourism and recreation, attracting new industries, and maintaining quality of life. It states that eco-tourism, outdoor activities, and recreational opportunities beckon us to take advantage of our resources. And it emphasizes PRIVATE CONSERVATION EFFORTS.

The Mississippi Democratic Party platform on the environment states that we must work to build a society that has the capacity to endure. And it emphasizes SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE PRACTICES.

The version of H.B. 1231 that passed out of Republican-controlled committees in the Senate strips private conservation from the bill.  It only involves government buying more land, causing counties to lose more ad valorem tax, and adding more land and facilities to the state’s coffers when we can’t properly take care of what we already own.  Our state parks are great examples of this.  Private conservation is vital when Mississippi is 90% private land.  We can’t solve the state’s wild hog problem, for example, by only working on 10% of the land.  And it prohibits our state’s private, charitable, conservation organizations from being partners. These organizations are innovative and are skilled in grant writing, project finance, and delivery. Unlike some of our state agencies, the conservation groups I know have excellent financial records.

When then Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann dedicated the Phil Bryant Wildlife Management Area, he said, “This is the way government, and private and non-profits ought to work – 17,000 acres of land for families to build memories”. That public-private partnership worked then and will continue to work well if we give it a chance.

Mississippi is a poor state and is blessed with a wealth of natural resources.  Billions of private and federal dollars exist to fund the improvement of them, especially private conservation, but Mississippi struggles in raising the necessary matching funds.  The state is losing an estimated $40-$50 million per year due to this lack of non-federal, matching funds.  Hence, if passed and includes private conservation, this trust fund will allow our state to significantly multiply our investment with other financial resources to support outdoor recreation projects and conserve both public and private lands.

If we use Lieutenant Governor Hosemann’s speech as a guide to shape this legislation as it continues to move through the process, and constantly remind ourselves of the large amount of funds at stake, I am confident we will end up in a good place.

My fellow Republicans, and Democrats, add back private conservation, fund H.B. 1231, and make this legacy legislation a reality.  Mississippi’s future depends on it.

OP-ED from Clarke T. Reed, State GOP Chairman (1966-1976)