by Cyrus Baird, Manager of Government Relations, Safari Club International - Tuesday, June 1, 2021
Hunters are acutely aware of trends and patterns. From patterning a big buck during the peak of the rut to tracking trends in the weather and migration routes for migratory waterfowl, a successful hunter is one who can pick up on these common occurrences and act on them. But there is something else that hunters should be patterning if they want to have a successful season every year: the public policy arena.
Public policy can have a tremendous impact on hunting. From bills that expand hunting access and promote or enhance conservation funding to legislation to ban common forms of hunting methods and the hunting of certain game species, hunters should pay just as much attention to their local, state and federal-level elected officials as they do to that big cold front during the rut. If you were not able to follow along through the first 100-plus days of 2021 and key in on certain themes and patterns, here is a quick rundown of what is happening in some state capitols and Washington, D.C.
On Jan. 26, California State Sen. Scott Wiener introduced Senate Bill 252 to ban legal, regulated bear hunting statewide, saying, “It’s time we stop this inhumane practice once and for all.” His official press release lists the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) as an official sponsor and supporter of the legislation. Wiener falsely claimed in his press release that recreational hunting of black bears in California has led to a decrease in populations when, in fact, northeastern California has seen an increase in black bears over the last 25 years. The statewide population is estimated to be well over 30,000 bears—growth has led to increased human-wildlife conflicts and public safety issues.
Soon after its introduction, news of the bill spread like a digital wildfire in the hunting community. The ensuing days saw a wave of scientific and fact-based advocacy roll through the state, washing away the legislative mud that Sen. Wiener and the HSUS were throwing at hunters and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Less than a week later, and after increased outreach and direct lobbying from hunter-backed groups like Safari Club International (SCI), the bill was quietly withdrawn.
In Connecticut, Senate Bill 925 is a re-introduction of a bill pushed by State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff to ban the import and possession of commonly hunted game species from Africa. While hunters who have no plans to hunt in Africa might think this bill doesn’t impact them, the underlying theme of the bill is anti-hunting and should concern anyone who values science-based wildlife management. This legislation would preempt the federal Endangered Species Act, a similar argument groups like SCI and the NRA have argued to state legislatures in the past, including to California lawmakers regarding the Iconic African Species Protection Act in California in 2020, a bill that was defeated in September.
Contrary to what the bill’s supporters said, the species listed in the bill were healthiest in the very countries where they are hunted and subjected to lawful international trade. It is a documented fact that the world’s largest populations of African elephant, leopard, lion, black and white rhino, and giraffe, for example, inhabit Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe—the countries with legal, regulated hunting programs that generate local income and other incentives and result in more secure habitat and lower rates of poaching.
Land Conservation through “30x30”
The concept of large-scale land conservation and protection was something campaign officials with the Biden administration touted to help win over conservation-minded voters. Dubbed “30x30,” the idea at its core is to protect 30 percent of the United States’ lands and waters before the year 2030. Yet the first 100 days of the new administration has left hunters with more questions than answers. At the top of the list is whether hunters will have a seat at the table when these conversations occur and when plans are unveiled.
As the original conservationists, we hunters have continually supported efforts to conserve our nation’s wildlife and wild places for more than a century. However, if hunting is not involved in the discussions, will large tracts of land be put under lock and key, making them inaccessible to outdoor recreation in the name of “protecting” biodiversity?
Organizations such as the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and SCI, among others, have drawn a line in the sand on this issue, drafting a resolution expressing support for the overall idea of 30x30, with the caveat including the “recognition of the positive role that hunting and fishing play in conservation.”
Questions on the details of 30x30 became a common theme from senators during the confirmation process of Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, and Deputy Secretary Nominee Tommy Beaudreau. In those hearings, little was shared in the way of a detailed plan on what classifies as “conserved lands” or the underlying goal of the initiative.
A Constitutional Right to Hunt
As hunters face attacks from anti-hunting groups, more state legislatures are looking to further enshrine increased protections and rights to hunt, fish and trap in their state constitutions, an effort regularly covered by this website. Currently there are more than 20 states that have constitutional protections in the form of state Right to Hunt and Fish Amendments (RTHF) with the most recent state added being Utah in 2020.
In 2021, a handful of states introduced similar bills, including in Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, New York and Iowa. In Montana, House Bill 367, introduced by Rep. Paul Fielder (R), cleared the Montana House by a margin of 68-32 but did not garner enough support to clear the two-thirds majority threshold needed from both chambers to place it on the ballot in 2022. Now Montana hunters must gather enough required signatures to place the state constitutional amendment on the ballot through a costly and time-consuming citizen-lead initiative.
In Missouri, bills were filed in both chambers. After some language tweaks, House Joint Resolution 23, introduced by Rep. John Black (R), emerged. After clearing the House in a vote of 125-18 and passing through a Senate Committee, it awaits a full floor vote before it will be placed on the ballot on Election Day 2022.
The Resident vs. Non-Resident Hunter Debate
An unusual theme that developed out of the first 100 days of 2021 was the fight over big-game tag allocations in western states between resident and nonresident hunters. A topic that was brewing in the West for years finally boiled over into several bills in states including Montana, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming seeking to limit the number of tags offered to nonresident hunters.
In New Mexico, lawmakers debated Senate Bill 312, legislation that would have increased the minimum percentage of draw licenses for big game that must be issued to New Mexico residents from 84 to 90 percent. It would have eliminated a provision requiring that 10 percent of licenses be set aside for hunters who use a guide or outfitter. As a result, around 1,000 more tags would have been available for state residents, but it would have decreased the number of tags provided to guides and outfitters. The bill failed to get out of its first committee after it was introduced on Feb. 1, due in large part to comments from the guiding and outfitting community.
In Colorado, Senate Bill 21-150 was introduced on Mar. 1, aiming to prohibit the Division of Parks and Wildlife from awarding more than one-third of big game hunting licenses to nonresidents in a limited license draw, but it would not apply to leftover tags. Just weeks later, the bill was postponed indefinitely in the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Finally, in Wyoming, Senate File Number SF0103 aimed to cut the nonresident tag allocation for big game licenses to less than 10 percent from the historic norm of around 20 percent, depending on the species, while also increasing the price of nonresident big game tags by as much as 76 percent. The bill died in committee after being introduced in March.
These bills generated considerable online commentary from the hunting community with both sides represented. Nonresident hunters provide a massive economic boon to state fish and wildlife agencies and local communities. In Wyoming, nonresidents account for over 75 percent of the total license revenue the state agency brings in each year. Decreasing nonresident tags likely would create a large financial hole in the agency. In New Mexico, the loss of 1,000 tags may not seem like a big deal, but the guiding and outfitting community was quick to note that the change could cost the state over $4 million in outfitter revenue and $500,000 in license fee revenue annually to the state’s Department of Game and Fish. At the same time, some resident hunters feel that they have been sold out by their state fish and wildlife agencies, passed over in lieu of their nonresident counterparts.
This wrap up of the first 100-plus days isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list of bills that impacts sportsmen and women across the country. Instead, it’s meant to illustrate common themes of bills around the country that hunters should be aware of and engage in to protect legal, regulated hunting’s future.2020-2021 The Hunting Wire Voice of Leadership Panel
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