In 2012, Mississippi’s sportsmen and women have abundant opportunities to hunt and fish in a state with tremendous natural resources. The Magnolia State has healthy populations of deer, turkey, and small game, as well as a productive fisheries system. From world-class crappie fishing to duck hunting in the legendary Mississippi Flyway, the state’s natural resources are something special.
But what we see today is not what Aldo Leopold saw while conducting his historic game survey in 1928-29. Leopold painted a much different picture and his game survey was the first step Mississippi took in becoming a leader in conservation.
While Leopold’s work was significant, it was the work of Fannye A. Cook that brought wildlife and fisheries conservation to the next level. Cook traveled throughout the state to campaign for a comprehensive state conservation program. At the time, Mississippi was the only state without a fish and game agency and a group founded by Cook lobbied the state Legislature to form a fish and wildlife commission.
In 1932, Gov. Mike Connor signed a law creating the Mississippi Game and Fish Commission as the state began to make strides in its conservation efforts. The new commission’s conservation programs included purchase and release of deer and turkey throughout the state and the initiation of the Fish Rescue Program.
“This Agency was founded on conservation, and through the work of visionary leaders like Fannye Cook this Agency was built on a solid foundation,” said Dr. Sam Polles, Executive Director of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks. “It has been 80 years since its inception and we continue the work they started.”
In 1937 an important piece of legislation was passed that continues to have a significant impact on wildlife throughout the United States. The Pittman-Robertson Act was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt. It established an excise tax on sporting arms and ammunition. The money collected through this tax is returned to state and local groups to support wildlife conservation and hunting.
“Historically, sportsmen and women have been a driving force in conservation,” Polles said. “The Pittman-Robertson Act is a shining example of how those utilizing our natural resources are the ones financially supporting them as well.”
Throughout the 1940s, the Mississippi Game and Fish Commission continued to grow until interrupted in 1942 by World War II. Following the war, the Mississippi Game and Fish Commission started purchasing land for public use and began research projects on doves, wild turkeys, squirrels, and waterfowl.
In 1950, the Dingell-Johnson Act was passed to provide federal aid in support of fisheries. Complementing the Pittman-Robertson Act, the Dingell-Johnson Act levied an excise tax on certain sport fishing tackle – which also shows the continued support of sportsmen.
Conservation and management does not happen by accident. It takes the dedicated work of many people to set and reach goals. William “Bill” Turcotte is considered by many to be the father of wildlife biology in Mississippi. Turcotte’s career in conservation spanned 40 years and he wore many hats during his tenure. From field biologist to the Agency’s Executive Director, his impact on conservation in Mississippi is widespread. Along with being instrumental in re-establishing deer and turkey throughout the state, he was a renowned expert in songbirds, and co-authored the book Birds of Mississippi.
Throughout history, one important facet has been creating public hunting and fishing opportunities. The establishment and management of state lakes and wildlife management areas started in the 1940s and continues today.
“Providing public places to enjoy our natural resources is just as important now as it was 80 years ago,” Polles said.
In 1989, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Conservation made another name change as the State Parks systems was included. From this point, the Agency was known as the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks.
The Agency has evolved to become Mississippi’s premier conservation organization since 1932, when Hunter Kimball was named the first Executive Director of the Mississippi Game and Fish Commission. Dr. Sam Polles is the longest serving Executive Director, being named to the post by Gov. Kirk Fordice in 1992.
“As a sportsman, I have always considered it an honor and a privilege to serve as Executive Director of this Agency,” Polles said. “The core of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks is the dedicated staff who work diligently each day to protect and conserve our natural resources. We look back with pride at the previous 80 years, but we are also looking forward to a bright future.”
Regulations in red are new this year.
Purple text indicates an important note.