Secretary Zinke Upholds States’ Wildlife Management Authority

Secretary Zinke Upholds States’ Wildlife Management Authority

Advancing his commitment to doing what is best for conservation, on Tues., Aug. 11, Secretary of the Interior and avid hunter and angler Ryan Zinke announced a new policy once and for all granting states the authority to manage their own fish and wildlife resources. The move, which impacts nearly 780,000 square miles of federal land, means Department of the Interior (DOI) agencies are busy drafting new action plans consistent with states' "fundamental responsibility" for fish and wildlife management within their borders regardless of whether the land is federally owned. Secretary Zinke’s Directive to his nine bureaus includes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management.

“The department recognizes states as the first-line authorities for fish and wildlife management and hereby expresses its commitment to defer to the states in this regard, except as otherwise required by federal law,” wrote Zinke in an official memo. Standing with Zinke are hunter-backed organizations like the six-million-member NRA, which has been an advocate for states’ authority to manage its wildlife irrespective of land ownership for years.

“Secretary Zinke remains true to his word in administratively putting wildlife conservation ahead of politics to settle this decades-old issue between federal land management agencies and the state fish and wildlife agencies,” said Susan Recce, Director of NRA-ILA’s Conservation, Wildlife and Natural Resources Division. “The NRA and like-minded conservation-partner organizations have worked to ensure that language recognizing states’ oversight responsibilities for wildlife management has been added to all germane legislation.”

Secretary Zinke’s Directive to his nine bureaus includes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management.

The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) was quick to share its support as the association dedicated to supporting and advocating for state, provincial and territorial responsibility for science-based fish and wildlife conservation. AFWA operates in step with the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, which was adopted as official NRA policy in December 2014.

“We are deeply appreciative of the Secretary’s directive to his bureaus to review current federal regulations, policies and guidance that are inconsistent with the states’ management authority, to bring them into alignment and to make recommendations that include the states’ input on an implementation plan within 120 days of his Directive Memo,” said Carol Frampton, AFWA General Counsel, NRA Board member and law professor at Michigan State University’s College of Law.

“This includes all such regulations, policies and guidance that pertain to public recreation use and enjoyment of fish and wildlife species. The Secretary’s Directive is consistent with a resolution adopted by the NRA Board of Directors at its April, 1978, board meeting articulating its long-standing board policy that “primary responsibility for management of the resident fish and wildlife resources of all federal lands has always been—and should continue to remain—with the state wildlife management agencies.”

For additional background, also reached out to Greg Sheehan for comment, who until recently served under Secretary Zinke in the DOI’s USFWS.

"Having served as the State Director of Utah and also having led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the Department of Interior, I understand the importance of having close working relationships between the states and the DOI,” said Sheehan. “I appreciate the direction given by Secretary Zinke to help better define the roles of the states and DOI and further strengthen the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. This sportsman's based, user-pay model continues to be the most effective approach to wildlife management in the world, and also helps to ensure continued firearm ownership by responsible citizens."

Zinke’s Outlines DOI’s First Two Steps
As referenced by Frampton, Zinke’s new policy directs Deputy SOI David Bernhardt to spend the next 120 days consulting with state fish and wildlife agencies and preparing an implementation plan. It also gives the DOI’s Bureau of Land Management and other DOI agencies 90 days to draft recommendations on how to do a better job aligning federal and state policies and regulations.

In his memo, Zinke explained, “The 50 state governments have extensive capacities and competencies to exercise their responsibilities to serve as trustees for fish and wildlife species resident in their respective states.” While Zinke certainly is not giving up ownership of federal lands, giving state fish and game agencies more management authority over their own natural resources is common sense and underscores the need for state and federal agencies to work as partners to secure the future of wildlife conservation.

Zinke’s History of Promises Kept
Secretary Zinke’s common-sense action is in step with his years spent championing states’ oversight, including in his previous role as a U.S Congressman from Montana. In 2016, he went on record to thank the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for doing the right thing after it proposed removing the grizzly bear in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) from the list of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. The NRA stood with him then and continues to do so in supporting Montana, Wyoming and Idaho in their quest to have authority over establishing hunts for delisted grizzly bears as the region’s bear populations reach or surpass carrying capacity. Another example was his support of the state of Alaska following the Obama administration’s move to strip away that state’s predator management authority on all 77 million acres of National Wildlife Refuges within the state’s boundaries. Ultimately, Alaska won its lawsuit, stopping a dangerous precedent for the Lower 48 that favored top-down management policies of America’s wildlife refuges. NRA stood with then-Congressman Zinke as NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris Cox noted that Alaska could return to relying on sound science for its unique conservation and wildlife management decisions.

Since becoming SOI in March 2017, Secretary Ryan Zinke has supported sportsmen’s critical role as the primary funders of conservation and has worked to make sure every state agency gets to manage its own fish and wildlife resources. For his many accomplishments in his current role, check out the article, Zinke’s First Year marks Big Winning Streak for Hunters.”

As you talk with non-hunters, consider sharing this eye-opener. A study released in 2012 documented the fact that revenue from hunting, fishing and trapping accounts for 60 to 90 percent of every state’s fish and wildlife agency’s annual budget—starting with paying game wardens’ salaries. Yes, legal and responsible American hunters even pay for those who police their all-American lifestyle.