Policy Corner Brief: APRIL 2021
Arkansas Caucus Passes School-Based Hunter Education Bill
- Led by Arkansas Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Member Senator Trent Garner and Caucus Co-Chair Representative Jeff Wardlaw, the Arkansas Legislature recently passed Senate Bill 161 (SB 161) allowing public schools to teach hunter safety as part of their curriculum.
- Hunter safety (also referred to as hunter education) is a common requirement for sportsmen and women who wish to hunt on their own without the aid of a mentor.
- By teaching hunter safety in schools, students are introduced to several important concepts, including firearm safety, hunting techniques, wildlife conservation, and the role of sportsmen and women in supporting conservation efforts.
Why It Matters: Hunter education courses are an excellent opportunity to introduce middle and high school students to a variety of topics related to conservation and our outdoor heritage. Further, these opportunities provide educators with an opportunity to introduce students to important concepts like the proper and responsible handling of a firearm in a controlled setting. Thanks to the work of the Arkansas Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus in supporting Senate Bill 161, Arkansas becomes the latest state to permit public school districts to incorporate hunter education into the public school curriculum. Moving forward, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) encourages all state legislatures to explore opportunities to permit and promote the inclusion of hunter education as part of public school curricula throughout the nation.
Arkansas Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus member Sen. Trent Garner and Caucus Co-Chair Representative Jeff Wardlaw recently led the charge in the passage of Senate Bill 161 (SB 161) which permits Arkansas’ public schools and public school districts to incorporate a hunter safety course into their physical education and health and safety curriculum for grades five through twelve. These courses must be based on the hunter training and safety program offered by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) and be taught by an educator who has met the instructor qualifications established by AGFC. In addition, CSF worked with the bill authors to include “wildlife conservation” as a component of the course.
The ability to integrate hunter safety into the curriculum gives an opportunity for students to gain familiarity with the outdoors, wildlife conservation, hunting, and firearm safety. Such courses also provide an opportunity to highlight the importance of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and the important role hunters and anglers play through the American System of Conservation Funding. For many children, this may be their best opportunity to gain this experience.
Hunting and other outdoor activities have been shown to improve an individual’s physical and mental health. The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a return to nature for many, with fishing and hunting license sales increasing across the country. Providing an opportunity for children to take a hunting safety course in school will help recruit new hunters and provide an easier path to the outdoors.
The Arkansas Legislature should be commended for taking this opportunity to educate the students in their state about our outdoor heritage and allow them to receive the training needed to enjoy these pursuits while contributing to conservation through the purchase of licenses.
5 Bills to Watch if you Hunt with Dogs in the Southeast
- Numerous bills that impact sportsmen and women who hunt with dogs have been introduced this year in Southeastern states.
- Many bills that look to strengthen animal cruelty laws, especially those concerning substandard kennels, can unintentionally cause a negative impact on hunters and their four-legged canine companions.
- The Southeast has a strong hunting heritage which includes using dogs in the pursuit of game, which has been integral to hunting pursuits and success.
Why it Matters: Sportsmen and women have a rich history of hunting with dogs, and hunters place great value on providing their loved four-legged canine companions with good care and well-maintained kennels.
As legislative sessions have convened across the Southeast, several bills related to hunting with dogs, substandard kennels, and tethering have been introduced across the region. Hunting with dogs is a long-standing tradition in many Southeastern states and remains a prominent pastime in hunting. Sportsmen and women who hunt with dogs should not be placed with undue burdens that would restrict their ability to maintain, train and hunt with their beloved companions.
AL House Bill 551: Prohibits the tethering of dogs under certain circumstances (temperature, weather, certain time periods, etc.). Tethering is a useful training tool for sportsmen and women. Dogs must not only learn basic commands to be successful in the field, but they must also become acclimated to certain weather conditions. If an individual does not have a fenced-in area, the responsible practice of tethering is the next best option. House Bill 551 has not received a hearing in the House Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.
FL Senate Bill 650: Would not allow for an individual to tether a dog while absent. The legislation attempts to exempt hunting dogs, but many times an individual may tether an animal at home as part of a training regimen. Senate Bill 650 is pending in the Senate Committee on Community Affairs.
GA Senate Bill 303: Labels any individual who owns at least 2 dogs and sells the offspring thereof as a “commercial breeder” and would not allow a person to house over 20 dogs in one “facility.” This legislation would be detrimental to small scale sporting dog kennel owners as well as everyday sportsmen who own 2 or more dogs. Senate Bill 303 has not moved since being assigned to the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Consumer Affairs.
SC Senate Bill 186: Relates to animal cruelty and responsible training techniques. Sportsmen and women dedicate a tremendous amount of time to training dogs to perform certain tasks in a myriad of different weather conditions and removing the exemption for hunting dogs from the statute is unneeded and would only serve as another barrier to participation in hunting. Senate Bill 186 has not moved since being assigned to the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources in January.
TN Senate Bill 511: Requires the owners of 10 or more intact females to register as a commercial dog breeder. Small-scale sporting dog kennels would have been subjected to the same regulatory oversight as well as pay the same fees as large commercial dog breeding operations. SB 511 was referred to a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Energy, Agriculture, and Natural Resources.
If you are interested in keeping up-to-date on legislation impacting hunting dogs and other issues relevant to sportsmen and women, sign up for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation’s Tracking the Capitols.
Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Stands up for Maine’s Hunting Community
- On April 14, the Maine Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife held a work session on Legislative Document 1015 (LD 1015) – legislation that would ban the use of lead ammunition while hunting.
- Non-lead ammunition options are presently not widely available in Maine, and when found on the market, usually carry steep prices compared to their lead counterparts.
- Ultimately, the bill received a unanimous Committee vote (with three absent) of “ought not to pass.”
- The Committee’s decision follows an April 5 public hearing on LD 1015, wherein the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation’s (CSF) Joe Mullin, Assistant Manager, Northeastern States, submitted a letter of opposition and testified against the bill.
Why it Matters: Proposals to ban lead ammunition are commonly brought forth by raptor rehabilitation centers under the auspices that these bans will somehow rectify individual cases of birds being harmed after ingesting lead fragments. While individual cases do occur, it is essential that fish and wildlife management decisions continue to be guided by population-level trends and not by isolated incidents. Considering the scarcity of all ammunition variants due to record-setting numbers of sales, requiring hunters to only use non-lead options would be entirely and unduly prohibitive. Sportsmen and women should be left the decision as to whether they are willing and/or able to make the switch to using a lead alternative.
Across the country, sportsmen and women are witnessing an unprecedented demand for ammunition. As shelves remain sparse, there are those out there who would see to it that the choices for hunters are even more strained; however, the Maine Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife stood up for Pine Tree State hunters by voting unanimously (with three absent) to reject LD 1015 – legislation that would ban the use of lead ammunition while hunting.
As previously reported, CSF’s Joe Mullin, Assistant Manager, Northeastern States, submitted a letter of opposition to the Committee and testified against this bill during its April 5 hearing. Mullin tuned-in for the Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s April 14 work session to hear the members express their concerns over the availability of non-lead ammunition options, and the price tags that they carry – both of which serve as hurdles for existing sportsmen and women and barriers to entry for those looking to get involved in some of our nation’s time-honored sporting traditions.
The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) was heavily engaged in this work session as well, emphasizing that the Department has been implementing an educational campaign, encouraging hunters to make the switch to non-lead ammunition, rather than seeking to implement a strict ban on the use of lead. The MDIFW has been having conversations with stakeholders to discuss the use of non-lead options in the pursuit of game and affirmed for the Committee that it would continue to lead and maintain open dialogue on this issue with the appropriate stakeholders.
A motion was eventually raised for LD 1015 to be reported as “ought not to pass,” and by a vote of 10 in favor and none opposed (with three absent), the motion passed. CSF commends the Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the MDIFW for its efforts to reject this prohibitive bill.
Building Wyoming’s Conservation Legacy by Improving Public Land Access
- One of the most frequently cited barriers to hunting participation trends nationwide, lack of access to public lands is a pervasive issue in need of fixing
- HB 122 builds on the rich conservation legacy of Wyoming’s outdoor sporting community by providing increased funding to improve wildlife conservation efforts while also expanding public and private land access and opportunities.
- Governor’s Sportsmen’s Caucus Member, Governor Gordon signed HB 122 into law.
Why it Matters: Our nation’s abundant public lands are a source of pride for all Americans. Unfortunately, despite being owned by the American public as a whole many of those public lands are inaccessible due to the patchwork of public and private land holding patterns. With almost 16 million acres of combined state and federal land inaccessible in the West, lack of public access to public lands is a pervasive issue in need of fixing. In Wyoming, HB 122 takes a proactive approach to addressing this issue head-on.
Public land access issues have been the focal point of many headlines in recent history. One of the most frequently cited barriers to hunting participation trends nationwide, lack of public access to public lands needs fixing. Put into perspective, according to a 2019 OnX published study, there is a total of 6.35 million acres of western state land and 9.52 million acres of western federal land that are entirely landlocked by private lands. With nearly three-quarters of western hunters dependent on public lands for some or all their access and opportunity, it’s clear that the sustainability of our shared outdoor sporting heritage is inextricably linked to public land access and opportunity.
Common in the region, Wyoming has a patchwork of public and private land holdings, some accessible, many not. Wyoming has 4.16 million acres of combined state and federal land that is inaccessible, the highest of all western states. If enacted, House Bill 122– Hunting and Fishing Access Reliable Funding– sponsored by Wyoming Sportsmen’s Caucus Member Representative Cyrus Western, would take a proactive approach in addressing public land access issues in the state.
HB 122 builds on the rich conservation legacy of Wyoming’s outdoor sporting community by providing increased funding to improve wildlife conservation efforts while also expanding public land access and opportunities. With the recent increased interest in our shared outdoor sporting heritage and public lands evidenced during the COVID-19 pandemic, HB 122’s Conservation Stamp fee increase will allow Wyoming’s Game and Fish Commission to rectify access issues prevalent across the state by purchasing properties or entering into easements and other agreements with willing property owners. Not only will this further the goals of programs like Access Yes, but the funds generated by the fee increase could also be leveraged as a state-side match to secure federal funding though the Land and Water Conservation Fund for the acquisition and development of public outdoor recreation areas, thus significantly expanding the overall breadth and impact of the fee increase.
The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation submitted a letter in support of HB 122 and on Friday, April 2, 2021, Governor Gordon enacted HB 122 into law, securing a significant win for Wyoming’s public land users.
Georgia Sportsmen’s Caucus Understands the Connection Between Federal and State Conservation Funding
- The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA), a strongly supported piece of bipartisan federal legislation, would provide nearly $1.4 billion annually for on-the-ground, state-based conservation funding.
- On February 18, 2021, Georgia Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Representative David Knight introduced House Resolution 183 (HR 183) which urges Congress to pass RAWA.
- On March 25, 2021, HR 183 was enacted by the Georgia Legislature.
Why it Matters: Fish and Wildlife game species that are cherished by hunters and anglers are thriving thanks to the financial contributions of sportsmen and women. Unfortunately, the roughly $3 billion in annual conservation funding provided by sportsmen and women only goes so far. As a result, roughly 12,000 species of fish, wildlife, and plants are at risk and in desperate need of conservation funding before more costly and burdensome measures are necessary.
State fish and wildlife agencies have identified, through their State Wildlife Action Plans (SWAPs), more than 12,000 species with the greatest conservation need. State agencies receive funding to address the issues identified in their SWAPs through the State Wildlife Grant Program. This program annually provides $65 million but when split amongst all 50 states and U.S. territories, it is insufficient to adequately address wildlife conservation needs.
Sportsmen and women serve as the primary funders of conservation for both game and non-game species through the American System of Conservation Funding. The Georgia Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus understands the hardships that many of the wildlife species in Georgia and across the country face with increasing urbanization and loss of viable habitat. RAWA would provide funds for state agencies to implement projects to support at-risk species and their associated habitats which would benefit other species, including game species.
While RAWA has not yet been reintroduced in this Congress, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) will continue our work to support RAWA. Coordination between federal and state governments in support of federal legislation that would greatly assist in the conservation of at-risk species is encouraging.
We appreciate the support of in-state conservation partners and the leadership of Georgia Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chairs Rep. Knight and Sen. Tyler Harper shepherding the resolution through the legislature.
Movers and Shakers: Legislative Updates from the Midwest
- Legislative sessions across the Midwest are progressing quickly, and several priorities for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation’s (CSF) Midwestern team have reached the finish line or are on the move.
- In the lower half of the region, prescribed fire liability bills are moving along while the Oklahoma Hunter Education in Schools resolution was unanimously approved by the Senate.
- In Arkansas, Governors Sportsmen’s Caucus (GSC) Member Governor Asa Hutchinson signed Senate Bill 161 (SB 161) on April 1 to authorize school districts to teach Hunter Education in Arkansas’ public schools.
- In the northern half of the region, several bad bills were defeated while a bill to continue a public access study in North Dakota was signed by GSC Member Governor Doug Burgum.
Why It Matters: As many of the Midwestern State’s legislative sessions are nearing their end, several priority bills have made progress throughout the region. While some of these bills, such as Missouri House Bill 369 (HB 369) and Senate Bill 301 (SB 301), and Oklahoma Senate Concurrent Resolution 5 (SCR 5) are still moving through the process, others, such as Arkansas Senate Bill 161 (SB 161) and North Dakota Senate Bill 2036 (SB 2036), have already crossed important finish lines. Sportsmen and women are encouraged to become engaged in the legislative process and join CSF in our mission to protect and advance hunting, angling, recreational shooting, and trapping. To track legislation related to our outdoor heritage, sign up for CSF’s legislative tracking software, Tracking the Capitols, here.
Since the Midwest’s January session preview, several key bills have made progress in their respective legislative sessions across the region. As a follow-up to that article, below are updates to some of the Midwest’s top priority bills for 2021. Stay tuned to The Sportsmen’s Voice or sign up for Tracking the Capitols for additional updates.
Missouri HB 369 and SB 301: Missouri’s prescribed burning acts, which seek to establish a prescribed burn manager certification and define liability standards for landowners and managers using prescribed fire on private lands, remains a priority for conservation partners in the Show-Me State. Currently, both bills await further consideration in the Senate after HB 369 passed out of the House in March.
Oklahoma SCR 5: The hunter education in school’s resolution led by the Oklahoma Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus’ Co-Chairs was unanimously approved by the Senate in March and now awaits its fate in the House of Representatives where it is expected to pass with similar support.
Indiana SB 266: CSF worked to correct, but ultimately opposed, Senate Bill 266 which would have restricted angling access within 200ft of shore. This bill failed to make it out of the House before the crossover deadline and was defeated.
Minnesota House Bill 157 and Senate Bill 247: These bills, which would have banned the use of lead tackle, did not make it out of committee. Following efforts by CSF in working with the Minnesota Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus’ Co-Chairs, both bills were defeated.
North Dakota SB 2036: Signed by Governors Sportsmen’s Caucus (GSC) Member Governor Burgum on March 31, SB 2036 continues a study of access to public and private lands for hunting, trapping, and fishing for another year. The study must include an evaluation of the electronic land access database, and application, while expanding its use to all counties in the state.
Expanding Opportunities for Hunters to Support Their Communities in Texas
- Texas House Bill 2213 (HB 2213) would expand opportunities for hunters to donate legally harvested meat to local food banks by allowing donations of exotic species.
- Current law only permits native meat to be donated, though the Texas Department of State Health Services issued a waiver to allow for the donation and processing of exotic animals until the state’s COVID-19 disaster declaration is lifted.
- In Texas, several exotic species, including axis and fallow deer, can be pursued by sportsmen and the meat from these species pose no health concerns.
- The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) and other sportsmen’s organizations support HB 2213 and all opportunities for hunters to give back to their community in the form of locally sourced, legally harvested meat.
- House Bill 2213 now awaits further action in the Texas House of Representatives.
Why it matters: For centuries, hunters served as providers for their communities. Today, reliance on hunters and gatherers to supply food outside of their own homes has diminished. However, hunters in many states can play a role in providing for those in need by donating game meat to their local food banks. In Texas, current law only permits native game meat to be donated, though the Texas Department of State Health Services has permitted the donation of exotic meat during the COVID-19 disaster declaration. House Bill 2213 would make this change permanent, allowing hunters to donate meat from legally harvested exotic animals that are hunted in the state. In addition to their support for conservation through the American System of Conservation Funding, game meat donation programs such as Texas’ Hunters for the Hungry and Sportsmen Against Hunger allow sportsmen and women to support their communities while engaging in outdoor pursuits.
Texas is currently home to several exotic species that have naturalized and developed self-sustaining populations in the state (including on public lands). As is the case for game species, hunters may legally pursue many of these species, though legally harvested meat from exotic species is not eligible for donation to in-state game meat donation programs outside of the existing COVID-19 disaster declaration. On March 24, the Texas House of Representative’s Public Health Committee held a hearing for House Bill 2213 (HB 2213) which would permanently expand opportunities for hunters to donate legally harvest exotic meat to local food banks.
Game meat donations open the door for sportsmen and women to provide aid for those less fortunate by donating excess meat from their harvests to food banks. While hunters no longer play the critical role they once did as providers for their entire community, many Americans still rely on hunting to supply healthy protein for themselves and their families. Game meat donation programs, such as Texas’ Hunters for the Hungry and Sportsmen Against Hunger, allow hunters to share that bounty with those in need. To support these programs, hunters, outside donors, and non-profit organizations cover the cost of processing game meat that is then shared with food banks for distribution. While sportsmen and women are often recognized for their support of conservation efforts through the American System of Conservation Funding, game meat donation programs allow our nation’s original conservationists to give back directly to their communities.
HB 2213 has been a priority for many sportsmen’s organizations in Texas who recognize the benefit that these opportunities can provide for those in need in the Lone Star State, particularly considering the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In support of HB 2213, CSF submitted a letter to members of the Texas Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus highlighting the importance of game meat donation programs. Following the public hearing in the House Public Health Committee, HB 2213 now awaits further action by members of the committee.
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