Policy Corner Brief: APRIL 2023
CSF AND PARTNERS SALVAGE LANGUAGE IN MICHIGAN FIREARM LEGISLATION
ARTICLE CONTACT: BOB MATTHEWS,
Why It Matters: Sometimes, a bill that would harm the interests of sportsmen and women has the support of both legislative chambers in a state. When this is the case, it is imperative that the groups defending those interests do all that they can to educate legislators on how the language could be improved to mitigate negative impacts. This month, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) working alongside partners, achieved significant improvements to a Michigan bill that would have been far more damaging in its original form.
- Michigan House Bill 4138 has been sent to the Governor’s desk for her signature after a month-long legislative hearing process. CSF worked very closely with legislators and partners to oppose the bill and its Senate companion, Senate Bill 76.
- As originally written, these bills would have applied the state’s current pistol licensing system to all guns, meaning that a person could not possess any firearm for which they did not own a purchase license.
- The legislation would have made it a crime to borrow or loan a gun to go hunting or recreationally shoot, which would have had significant negative impacts on sportsmen and women and their ability to share our time-honored traditions with newcomers and youth.
As originally written, House Bill 4138 and Senate Bill 76 would have expanded the state’s pistol licensing system to include all firearms, meaning that a person could not possess a firearm that they did not own. This would have had a detrimental impact on the ability of hunters and recreational shooters to share their favorite pastimes with newcomers, hurting recruitment, retention, and reactivation efforts in the state. Additionally, the legislation would have required Michiganders to submit license applications to the State Police for the millions of firearms already owned by the state’s many sportsmen and women. Because the Michigan State Police was not designed to take on such a massive influx of clerical work, it is possible that many applications would not have been processed by the time the law took effect, turning otherwise lawful hunters and recreational shooters into criminals.
The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, alongside in-state and national partners, successfully convinced Michigan lawmakers that the legislation as introduced was extremely detrimental to the state’s hunters and recreational shooters. The language was amended to drastically mitigate negative impacts on sportsmen and women by removing the license-to-possess requirement. With this change, Michiganders may continue to freely share firearms with friends and family to hunt or recreationally shoot, and the State Police will not be burdened by the impossible task of approving licenses for existing firearms in the State.
Although the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation made it clear to legislators that the changes did not invite CSF’s support of the bills, securing these amendments is still a victory for the State’s outdoor heritage. With both chambers of the legislature and the Governor’s office supporting the original bill versions, mitigating the impacts on sportsmen and women was an uphill battle from their introduction. Upon HB 4138’s expected signing by the Governor, Michiganders will be required to pass background checks for private gun sales. CSF will continue to work alongside partners and legislators to oppose and improve bills that harm our outdoor traditions.
States Involved: MI
HOUSE NATURAL RESOURCES HOLDS HEARINGS TO REVIEW STATE WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AUTHORITY AND FORESTRY BILLS
ARTICLE CONTACT: TAYLOR SCHMITZ,
Why It Matters: For years, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) has supported efforts to restore state wildlife management authority of species that are recovered under the Endangered Species Act, including grizzly bears and gray wolves. Furthermore, CSF has long supported efforts to alleviate the costly procedural hurdles imposed by the Cottonwood decision. Last week’s hearing marks the first movement these efforts have received so far in the 118th Congress.
- Last Thursday, the House Natural Resources held two different hearings to support state wildlife management authority and to alleviate burdensome requirements set forth by the 2015 Cottonwood decision.
- The first hearing occurred in the Water, Wildlife, and Fisheries Subcommittee to consider two bills to delist the grizzly bear from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the Northern Continental Divide and Greater Yellowstone Ecosystems as well as a bill to delist the gray wolf.
- The second hearing, which occurred in the Federal Lands Subcommittee, focused on a number of different bills, including the CSF-supported Forest Information Reform Act (H.R. 200), which would fully address the Cottonwood decision that is halting forest management projects across the west.
On Thursday morning, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife and Fisheries held a hearing on three different bills that would remove certain recovered species from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and return their management to the respective state fish and wildlife agencies. Specifically, the hearing included H.R. 765, the Trust the Science Act to delist the gray wolf across the lower 48, and H.R. 1419 to delist the grizzly in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem as well as H.R. 1245 to delist the grizzly in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
In 2020, the Department of the Interior announced a decision to delist gray wolves across the lower 48 states. Fast forward to February 10, 2022, a District Court in California vacated the 2020 rule removing the gray wolf from the ESA. The arguments presented in Court prevailed because wolves were originally listed on the ESA across the lower 48 states, despite the fact that wolves did not, and will never inhabit all of the lower 48 states. This ruling is purely technical in nature and does not account for the successful recovery of the gray wolf. H.R. 765 would reinstate the 2020 rule and return the management of gray wolves to state agencies.
Furthermore, the recovery of the grizzly bear is an American conservation success story that is a direct result of the efforts of inter-governmental collaboration amongst the federal government and the relevant states as well as private landowners. In 1975, when grizzly bears were listed under the Endangered Species Act, there were as few as 136 grizzlies in the GYE alone. Today, through the investment of countless hours and dollars as well as the result of science-based management, the population in the GYE contains upwards of 700 bears, which is at or near the GYE’s carrying capacity.
State fish and wildlife agencies not only have a vested interest in recovering endangered species, but they often are the entities best equipped to carry out on-the-ground conservation, law enforcement, and other management practices that are critical to healthy species and habitats.
Later in the day, the Subcommittee on Federal Lands held a hearing on the Forest Information Reform Act (H.R. 200), a bill that is strongly supported by CSF to address the problems caused by the 2015 Cottonwood Environmental Law Center v. U.S. Forest Service decision that has delayed and effectively halted the implementation of critical fish and wildlife habitat improvements on lands managed by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. As wildfires, climate change, and other present challenges increasingly devastate our forests, a fix to 2015 Cottonwood decision is critical to restoring the health of forests.
The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation appreciates the Committee holding a hearing on these bills and looks forward to working with the Committee to advance these important measures through the legislative process.
NORTH DAKOTA LOOKS TO WORK WITH PRIVATE LANDOWNERS FOR HABITAT DEVELOPMENT
ARTICLE CONTACT: JAKE GOULD, BOB MATTHEWS,
Why It Matters: A working partnership between state fish and wildlife agencies and private landowners, particularly in states with limited public lands, is critical as agencies seek to fulfill their mission to provide opportunities for land access and support wildlife habitat conservation. State fish and wildlife agencies are best equipped for making science-based wildlife management decisions, and the ability to work closely with interested private landowners provides an opportunity to benefit all stakeholders.
- ND HB 1260 would expand the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s (NDGF) wildlife management authority by allowing the agency the ability to partner with private landowners to address challenges and advance conservation objectives.
- In addition to these conservation partnership opportunities, HB 1260 would also grant NDGF the ability to issue special antlerless elk depredation management licenses to landowners who agree to provide voluntary public hunting access on their property.
- The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) submitted testimony to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources for HB 1260, urging legislators to support the bill as it continues through the legislative process.
Recently, the North Dakota Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources conducted a hearing for House Bill 1260, legislation that would allow the North Dakota Fish and Game Department to create a voluntary program designed to compensate private landowners for habitat conservation on their land. Additionally, the Director of NDGF can issue a special antlerless elk depredation management license to landowners who allow for reasonable public access lands enrolled in the program at no fee. As written, the landowners who apply for the special antlerless elk depredation management license will still pay the resident big game license fee.
State fish and wildlife agencies, like the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, are best equipped to make science-based fish and wildlife management decisions. With this in mind, CSF supports the ability of NDGF to create a program by which the agency can enter into voluntary agreements with private landowners to advance fish and wildlife habitat conservation objectives. Further, CSF supports HB 1260’s intent to create a system designed to expand access for sportsmen and women through a voluntary, public access to private lands program. Particularly for landowners facing challenges related to crop depredation by big game species, this program represents a win for both the state’s sportsmen and women who lack private lands of their own and for the landowner who will receive assistance in the form of additional hunters and special depredation management licenses for their own use.
In recognizing the importance of creating relationships with private landowners, and the importance of the state fish and wildlife agency’s ability to manage wildlife, CSF submitted testimony to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in support of HB 1260. CSF urges the Committee to support the passage of this bill, allowing for NDGF to continue and further their ability to successfully manage the Peace Garden State’s public trust fish and wildlife resources.
States Involved: ND
CSF’S ELLARY TUCKERWILLIAMS NAMED TO ADVISORY BOARD FOR U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE’S WILDLIFE SERVICES PROGRAM
ARTICLE CONTACT:ELLARY TUCKERWILLIAMS,
Why It Matters: As the leading voice for sportsmen and women in the policy arena, CSF and staff engage in a variety of ways. Appointments to Federal Councils allows CSF to further its scope of contribution to the policy process.
- Ellary TuckerWilliams, Assistant Manager, Rocky Mountain States and Predator and Furbearer Management Policy, was recently appointed by the US Department of Agriculture to serve on the National Wildlife Services Advisory Committee.
- CSF staff members serve on a host of Federal Advisory Committees and this appointment is another in a long line of examples of CSF’s leadership among sporting conservation organizations.
On March 22, 2023, the US Department of Agriculture announced its selection of individuals to serve on the National Wildlife Services Advisory Committee (NWSAC). This diverse 20-member committee will advise the Secretary Thomas Vilsack on recommendations for policies and activities for the USDA’s Wildlife Services program.
The NWSAC membership represents a broad range of agriculture and wildlife interests. Nominees are selected to represent program stakeholders including academia, airport safety, farming and livestock producers, and state wildlife agencies, among other interest groups. The NWSAC serves as an open forum for diverse interests to have a voice in the policies, guidance, and strategic planning for Wildlife Services.
The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) is very pleased that Ellary TuckerWilliams, Assistant Manager, Rocky Mountain States and Predator and Furbearer Management Policy, was selected to serve on the NWSAC. As the predator and furbearer management policy lead for CSF, Ellary brings with her critical expertise and experience that will undoubtedly prove extremely beneficial in the development of future policy recommendations by NWSAC. CSF is confident Ellary will continue to be a strong voice for hunting, fishing, trapping, recreational shooting, and science-based wildlife management throughout the term of her appointment.
“I am honored to have been selected to serve on NWSAC and look forward to working with my fellow Committee members on advancing amenable, science-based strategies and solutions to human-wildlife conflict,” said Ellary Tucker Williams. “By giving proper consideration to the biological, economic, and social considerations that accompany any human-wildlife conflict, I genuinely believe that NWSAC will be able to provide substantive guidance to Wildlife Services to carry out its mission and fulfill its intended role.”
RIGHT TO HUNT AND FISH GAINS POSITIVE MOMENTUM IN FLORIDA
ARTICLE CONTACT: MARK LANCE,
Why It Matters: An effort to make hunting and fishing, including the use of traditional methods, a constitutional right in Florida is underway with the introduction of House Joint Resolution 1157 and Senate Joint Resolution 1234. Currently, 23 state constitutions, including all of Florida’s neighboring states, have been amended to include the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife. Right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife constitutional amendments protect the outdoor traditions of thousands of sportsmen and women from efforts to limit or outright ban hunting and fishing practices. HJR 1157 and SJR 1234 would put the right to hunt and fish constitutional amendment on the ballot for Florida voters in 2024.
- HJR 1157 was introduced by Representative Lauren Melo and is co-sponsored by Florida Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Representative Jason Shoaf. SJR 1234 was introduced by Senator Jason Brodeur.
- On March 27, HJR 1157 passed the Agriculture, Conservation, and Resiliency Subcommittee favorably. Prior to the subcommittee meeting, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) submitted testimony in support of HJR 1157.
- Also, on March 27, SJR 1234 passed the Environment and Natural Resources Committee by a vote of 8-1. Prior to the committee meeting, CSF submitted testimony in support of SJR 1234.
While adding the right to hunt and fish to the Florida State Constitution is an obvious effort for the Sunshine State’s hunters and anglers to rally around to defend their sporting heritage from anti-hunting and fishing groups, it also further protects conservation funding and Florida’s economy as a whole. For example, sportsmen and women generated over $70 million for conservation funding through the American System of Conservation Funding in 2021 alone. They also support more than 99,880 jobs and contribute more than $10 billion to the state’s economy while engaged in their pursuits.
Every day across the country, sportsmen and women see efforts to limit hunting or angling opportunities. Whether it is at the federal, state, or local level, hunting and fishing privileges are regularly threatened. Therefore, many states take that challenge head-on by coordinating with their respective state fish and wildlife agency and pro-sportsmen stakeholder groups to include the right to hunt and fish into their state’s constitution.
HJR 1157 currently awaits action in the House Infrastructure Strategies Committee, and SJR 1234 is pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
If HJR 1157 and SJR 1234 are successful in navigating the legislature, the right to hunt and fish constitutional amendment would be placed on the ballot in 2024. CSF will continue to work with in-state and national conservation partners as well as the Florida Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus to protect the opportunities of Florida’s sportsmen and women by advocating for Florida to constitutionally protect the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife.
States Involved: FL
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