SUBMITTED BY SECRETARY OF STATE MICHAEL WATSON 

Over the last few decades, Mississippi has weathered the impacts of numerous natural disasters which have strained our state’s infrastructure, public lands, waterways, wildlife, and farmland.

Our fisheries and seafood industry took a $215 million hit due to repeated openings of the Bonnet Carre’ Spillway in 2019, according to the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources. The disturbance occurred just as the industry was making a comeback from the catastrophic effects of Hurricane Katrina, which according to a Mississippi State University Extension Center assessment, included another estimated total damage of $101 million to Mississippi seafood processing plants and seafood dealers.

The Mississippi Gulf Coast is not the only region feeling a continuous strain on its local ecosystem. Flooding has critically impacted the Yazoo Backwater Area (YBA) nearly every year since 2002, including a record-breaking flood in 2019. A report prepared for the Mississippi Levee Board documented more than three million feet of cottonwood sawtimber died or showed severe degradation due to the 2019 flood. It was also estimated that over 500 deer died on the YBA levee system from mid-June to early August 2019. On top of that, highways were rendered impassible, homes and businesses were destroyed, and two Mississippians lost their lives.

These instances only represent a small glimpse of the struggles our state has endured in recent years. As State Lands Commissioner and trustee of the state’s tidelands, the need for a concerted effort to preserve Mississippi’s greatest assets has become a top priority, which is why I assembled the Conservation Task Force. Comprised of some of the brightest minds in the country who serve as experts on wildlife and natural resources, we began meeting in 2021 with the same goal in mind— to develop a statewide conservation plan and explore viable funding options for improvements across the state.

Additionally, I was pleased to see the passage of the Mississippi Outdoor Stewardship Act during the 2022 Legislative Session, which included an initial appropriation of $10 million for the Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund. With a seat at the Board of Trustees’ table, I believe our Task Force can significantly contribute to the conversation of preservation and enhance efforts to achieve our conservation goals with all Mississippians in mind.

While conservation efforts are often misconstrued as a partisan talking point, in reality, safeguarding our state’s natural resources should be a priority for all Mississippians.