U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt was in New Hampshire Wednesday, touring the Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
Bernhardt’s visit came just before the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill to permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which helps New Hampshire and other states fund ecological and cultural conservation projects.
President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill in the coming days.
Bernhardt said programs like the LWCF are essential to expanding use of public lands, especially in the pandemic, during which he said there’s been increased visitation at some sites.
“We’ve seen a clear indication of how important it is for the public to have access to the public lands and to be able to find solace, find inspiration, find comfort by being outdoors,” he said.
Bernhardt said he’s prioritized increasing public lands access for hunters and fishermen, whom he credited with pioneering American conservationism.
His Granite State visit came after a stop in Boston, where he heard the concerns of commercial fishermen about offshore wind development.
Under Trump, Bernhardt has given proposals like Massachusetts’ Vineyard Wind more scrutiny than he’s given to some fossil fuel developments, which also stand to benefit more from recent regulatory rollbacks. Bernhardt defended steps he's taken during his stop at Great Bay.
"The law applies the same way, we apply it the same way, and we act the same way,” he said.
Bernhardt also praised the maintenance work that's gone on at the Great Bay refuge recently, including boardwalk upgrades, permitting for a dam removal and a new parking lot for hunters. The refuge hosts a fall deer and turkey hunt.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story inaccurately described some activities at the refuge based on incorrect information provided by the Department of the Interior -- including that a dam was being repaired, when in fact it is being removed. The last paragraph of this story has been updated.