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Policy Corner Brief: AUGUST 2023

Policy Corner Brief: AUGUST 2023

Policy Corner Brief: AUGUST 2023

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PHOTOGRAPHY BY

Policy Corner Brief: AUGUST 2023

STORY BY
PHOTOGRAPHY BY
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NASC EXECUTIVE COUNCIL HOLDS SUCCESSFUL MID-YEAR MEETING IN OKLAHOMA

Why It Matters:  The National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses (NASC) Executive Council is a bipartisan group of state sportsmen-legislators who lead the NASC network by providing advice to the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) on the administration of the NASC program. Representing states from Alaska to Maine, and South Carolina to New Mexico, Executive Council Members collectively possess decades of legislative experience dealing with complex sportsmen’s issues, and their service to CSF and to the NASC network is critical to protecting outdoor sporting traditions for future generations.

Highlights:

  • On July 17, the National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses Executive Council met in Monkey Island, Oklahoma for their annual Mid-Year Meeting.
  • With logistical support provided by CSF, the Mid-Year Meeting is the NASC Executive Council’s annual summer meeting where issues impacting hunters and anglers are discussed and programmatic planning for the NASC network is undertaken.
  • Planning for the 20th Annual NASC Sportsman-Legislator Summit in Dewey Beach, Delaware was an emphasis of the meeting.

Elected by their peers to serve two-year terms, Executive Council Members are committed to the mission and goals of NASC and serve as an advisory entity for CSF’s management of the NASC program. The 50 state sportsmen’s caucuses and roughly 2,000 state legislators that are members of their respective state sportsmen’s caucuses are guided by the leadership of the Executive Council. which works with CSF to formulate pro-sportsmen policy and facilitates information sharing among state sportsmen’s caucuses, conservation partners, and industry.

Executive Council Members discussed a wide range of topics at the 2023 Mid-Year Meeting, including state and federal policy updates, emerging issues and trends, state caucus infrastructure improvements, NASC regional policy forums, CSF’s Summer Webinar Series, and the development of new Issue Briefs, among others. Outside of the business meeting, Executive Council Members took time to enjoy some of the angling opportunities available on Grand Lake.

CSF would like to thank Representative Kevin Wallace for hosting the meeting and showcasing the Sooner State’s hospitality and would like to further thank the Oklahoma Sportsmen’s Fund, Inc. for underwriting the event. Working in conjunction with the Executive Council, CSF is excited about the next 20 years of the NASC network.

 

CSF STRIDENTLY OPPOSES MINNESOTA DNR’S EMERGENCY ORDER PROHIBITING LEAD AMMUNITION ON CERTAIN STATE LANDS

ARTICLE CONTACT: BOB MATTHEWS

Why It Matters: Across the United States, state fish and wildlife agencies make management decisions based on impacts to species at the population-level. Straying from this nearly universally practiced approach – particularly when creating a rule to prohibit lead ammunition, which is not readily available to meet the demands of sportsmen and women – may unnecessarily threaten the conservation of wildlife and their habitats through decreased conservation funding.

Highlights:

  • The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued an emergency order prohibiting the use of lead ammunition on the state’s fifty-six Scientific and Natural Areas (SNAs).
  • The order did not go through the formal rulemaking process, which would have required the DNR propose the regulation and then allow the public to provide comments.
  • The DNR issued a similar emergency order in August 2022, only to reverse the order two months later in October, explicitly stating that there was not a sufficient supply of non-lead ammunition readily available, which would have significantly reduced participation and therefore adversely affected deer population management in the state.
  • The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) strongly opposes the DNR order, given that it is not supported by the verifiable and repeatable scientific evidence that typically informs wildlife management decisions. Further, the order is likely to have negative financial ramifications on the DNR itself and the state’s economy, as hunting generates nearly $1.4 billion dollars each year in Minnesota.

The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation delivered a letter to the Minnesota DNR in strong opposition to its recent emergency order creating a rule that prohibits the use of lead ammunition on Minnesota’s fifty-six Scientific and Natural Areas. Wildlife management decisions by state agencies, including the Minnesota DNR, are made at the population-level rather than based on individual instances, and there is no verified or repeatable scientific evidence determining that lead ammunition impacts wildlife species at this population-level.

Further, in the current market conditions, non-lead ammunition is not readily available for hunters to purchase and utilize afield – something that the Minnesota DNR explicitly acknowledged in 2022 when it reversed a similar emergency order banning lead ammunition on certain state lands. The DNR admitted that without a supply of lead ammunition capable of meeting market demands, hunter participation would be reduced, and in turn the significant management benefits that hunters offer to white-tailed deer populations would be curtailed. The market conditions surrounding ammunition remain largely unchanged from a year ago, and in a time where fewer and fewer Americans are participating in hunting, this rule continues to increase barriers to participate and undermines the DNR’s ability to carry out its mission of conserving the state’s wildlife populations.

The Minnesota DNR relies on the unique “user pays – public benefits” structure of the American System of Conservation Funding, and given this rule’s negative impacts on both hunter participation and the ability for sportsmen and women to purchase the ammunition necessary to hunt, this rule stands to reduce revenue that the DNR would receive from the sale of hunting licenses and from excise taxes levied on outdoor sporting goods. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), last year hunting licenses alone generated more than $34 million for the Minnesota DNR – and when matched by the USFWS with Wildlife Restoration dollars (excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, and other items), that number grew to more than $68 million for the agency. On top of reducing the financial contributions that hunters make to support the DNR’s conservation efforts, this rule would also harm the financial benefit that hunting offers to the state, as the most recent estimates indicate that hunting contributes nearly $1.4 billion to Minnesota’s economy.

This emergency order stands to harm the strong community of Minnesota sportsmen and women that have long supported the DNR by creating an unnecessary barrier to participate in hunting. The ramifications of this rule pervade not only the outdoor traditions that Minnesotans have practiced for generations, but the conservation efforts of the DNR itself. CSF will continue to oppose this rule and others like it, which are not founded on established scientific evidence and instead undermine the very principles of wildlife conservation in America.

States Involved: MN

 

CSF LEADS EFFORT WITH SENATE CSC LEADERSHIP TO PASS DUCK STAMP MODERNIZATION ACT

July 28, 2023 (Washington, D.C.) – Yesterday evening, the U.S. Senate passed a top priority for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) known as the Duck Stamp Modernization Act of 2023 (S. 788). This bipartisan bill is led by the entire Senate Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus Leadership, Co-Chairs Sens. John Boozman and Joe Manchin and Vice-Chairs Sens. Angus King and Roger Marshall.

Prior to the vote, CSF worked with the bill sponsors and key offices to help navigate this bill through the political process and ultimately a successful floor vote. The Senate passage of this bill builds upon the House Natural Resources Committee passage of the House companion bill led by CSC Vice-Chair Rep. Garret Graves and CSC Member Rep. Mike Thompson.

The Duck Stamp Modernization Act will simplify the Federal Duck Stamp process by allowing hunters to have an electronic duck stamp on their smartphone for the entirety of the hunting season. Under current law, when a hunter purchases an electronic Federal Duck Stamp (e-stamp), the e-stamp is only valid for a period of 45 days to allow for the actual stamp to be mailed. Once the actual stamp is received by the e-stamp purchaser, the actual stamp must be signed by the respective hunter across the face of the stamp and be in the hunter’s possession while afield. However, this legislation will remove the 45-day validation period and make the electronic stamp valid for the entirety of the hunting season. To ensure the continuance and integrity of the Federal Duck Stamp art contest, a longstanding tradition for waterfowlers and other bird enthusiasts alike, S. 788 will ensure that purchasers of e-stamps still receive the actual stamp in the mail. Specifically, the legislation will provide that actual stamps will be mailed to purchasers from March 10 to June 30.

“The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation thanks the Senate CSC Leadership for shepherding the Duck Stamp Modernization Act through the Senate on a unanimous vote,” said CSF President and CEO Jeff Crane. “This legislation not only improves the Federal duck stamp process for nearly one million waterfowl hunters, but it also safeguards the rich history and traditions of the Federal Duck Stamp artwork contest.”

Signed into law in 1934, the Federal Duck Stamp has generated over $1.1 billion for wetlands conservation and helped conserve over 6 million acres of wetlands within the National Wildlife Refuge System. In 1934, there were roughly 635,000 stamps sold. Today, that number has grown to over 1.5 million stamp purchases, which generates more than $37.5 million for wetlands conservation. Importantly, approximately 98% of the Federal Duck Stamp purchase price is spent directly on the management and acquisition of wetlands to bolster habitat for wetland dependent species such as ducks, geese, shorebirds, fish, turtles, and countless others.

S. 788 now heads to the House for further consideration. CSF will continue to work with the Congressional Sportsmen’s Leaders and House Leadership to see that this bill passes the House and goes to the President’s desk for signature.

 

CSF CONCERNED WITH RESTRICTIONS OF FUNDING FOR HUNTER EDUCATION AND OTHER SCHOOL PROGRAMS

ARTICLE CONTACT: TAYLOR SCHMITZ

Why it matters: Hunter education, archery in schools, wilderness courses, and other outdoor focused school activities provide unmatched enrichment opportunities for students from all walks of life. These programs provide critical life skills for students and, according to teachers engaged with these programs, student participation has been correlated with improvements in academic performance, behavior, and school attendance. Unfortunately, some of these programs are at risk of losing important federal funding.

  • As part of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) that was signed into law last year, Congress amended a comprehensive school funding program known as the Elementary and Secondary Schools Education Act (ESEA), which is utilized by some state level Departments of Education to fund archery in schools, wilderness courses, archery programs, among others.
  • When Congress made the modifications to the ESEA through the BSCA, the legislative branch included language to prohibit the use of ESEA funds for the training of personnel in the use of a “dangerous weapon”. The intent of Congress in making this amendment to ESEA was to prohibit ESEA funds from being used for training school resource officers and other security personnel.
  • Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Education is taking the definition of “dangerous weapon” at face value rather than following the legislative intent of Congress, which is now threatening the future of school activities such as archery, hunter education, among many others.

In June 2022, Congress passed, and President Biden signed into law the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. When the BSCA passed, an overarching school funding program known as the Elementary and Second Schools Education Act was altered to prohibit ESEA funds from being used for training school security personnel in the use a “dangerous weapon”, which is now undermining many important school programs.

The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) is actively working to reverse the direction of the U.S. Department of Education to ensure that these programs remain intact for millions of students across the country. CSF is working with Leaders and Members of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus to make it clear that the intent of Congress was not to undermine these longstanding enrichment programs. While we are hopeful the Department of Education will revisit the intent of Congress in the BSCA and revise its interpretation to protect the programs at-risk, CSF has also endorsed a legislative fix (H.R. 5110) to address this issue. Led by Rep. Mark Green (TN) and former CSC Leader Rep. Richard Hudson (NC) H.R. 5110 will make it clear that the BSCA was not intended to prohibit ESEA funds for the activities in question.

The BSCA amended the ESEA to prohibit funds from being used for the purposes of training personnel in the use of a “dangerous weapon”, which is defined in federal statute as “a weapon, device, instrument, material, or substance, animate or inanimate, that is used for, or is readily capable of, causing death or serious bodily injury, except that such term does not include a pocket knife with a blade of less than 2½ inches in length”. Importantly, the legislative intent of Congress was not to restrict ESEA funds for the aforementioned activities.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Education is interpreting the inclusion of “dangerous weapon” at face value by using the strict definition of “dangerous weapon” rather than following the legislative intent of Congress, which is leading to the cancellation of school programs such as hunter education, archery, wilderness courses, school sponsored shooting teams, among many other critically important activities for America’s youth.

Again, CSF is hopeful that the Department of Education will follow the legislative intent of Congress to maintain the vitality of these programs. CSF will continue to work to address this issue.

 

FIVE KEY LEGISLATIVE VICTORIES FROM THE GREAT LAKES REGION

ARTICLE CONTACT: BOB MATTHEWS

Why It Matters: As most state legislatures across the country have adjourned, the tail-end of summer offers a chance to reflect on policy victories in the conservation sphere while looking forward to securing more victories in remaining states that meet year-round.

  • In the Great Lakes region, state legislatures in Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota have adjourned for the year (although Illinois often reconvenes for a few weeks at the end of the year).
  • The state legislatures in Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin meet year-round. After working on budget negotiations in the first half of the year, legislators often take a break during the end of summer to return to their home districts and prepare for the last few months of the legislative session.
  • In 2023, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) has worked closely in the Great Lakes States to secure policy victories that benefit hunters, anglers, recreational shooters, and trappers; as well as our fish and wildlife resources, and their habitats.

With state legislatures either adjourned or in recess, August offers an opportunity to look back on the legislative year thus far and celebrate some of the key victories that CSF has helped secure for sportsmen and women in the Great Lakes States:

  • Illinois residents that have not purchased a fishing license in the last ten years may purchase a license at a one-time discounted rate. Because residents do not need to purchase a fishing license until they are 16 years of age, and to ensure that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) doesn’t lose any revenue, the discount only applies to residents aged 26 and older. This bill, HB 2317, which was signed by the Governor in June, seeks to tap into a group of non-angling Illinoisans to bolster the DNR’s revenue stream while broadening the state’s fishing community.
  • Sportsmen and women in Illinois may continue to share ammunition while afield or at the shooting range. HB 1057, introduced and considered in the Illinois House of Representatives, would have required that anyone attempting to transfer ammunition to another person holds a Federal Firearm License (FFL). This would have been detrimental to common practices by most hunters and recreational shooters in the state, who would have been unable to share guns and ammunition while enjoying our time-honored outdoor traditions.
  • Michigan sportsmen and women will not need a license to simply possess or share a firearm. As originally written, a package of bills introduced in both the state’s House and Senate would have required that any person in possession of a firearm also carry a license for that firearm, which would have prohibited anyone in the state from simply handing a gun to a friend while afield or at a shooting range. CSF and both in-state and national partners successfully worked diligently to nix that language.
  • In Minnesota, crossbows will be fully incorporated into the state’s archery season. Thanks to language included in the Natural Resource omnibus bill, culminating a multi-year effort by CSF, hunters in the North Star State may now use crossbows to hunt deer, bear, turkey, and rough fish during those species’ respective archery seasons, regardless of age. Expanding crossbow opportunities is designed to bolster recruitment, retention, and reactivation efforts in the state, while simultaneously contributing to Minnesota’s fish and wildlife population management efforts.
  • In Ohio, out-of-state college students will be considered residents for the purpose of purchasing hunting and fishing licenses. Given the costs students incur attending a school outside of their original home state, students are often unable to afford non-resident hunting and angling licenses, resulting in lower participation rates among this key demographic of sportsmen and women. Allowing these students to purchase licenses as if they were residents of the state alleviates this burdensome cost and instead encourages students to participate in the state’s storied outdoor pursuits.

These successes are only a glimpse of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation’s impact in the Great Lakes States – let alone the entire country. In the past five years alone CSF has helped secure more than 1,000 victories for sportsmen and women, our fish and wildlife resources, and their habitats, and we will continue to expand that tally by protecting and advancing pro-conservation legislation in states all across the nation and on Capitol Hill in the months and years ahead.

 

CSC MEMBERS DINGELL AND JOHNSON INTRODUCE VPA IMPROVEMENT ACT IN THE HOUSE

ARTICLE CONTACT: KENT KEENETAYLOR SCHMITZ

Why it Matters: Arguably the most important access program in the Farm Bill for sportsmen and women, the Voluntary Public Access – Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP) has expanded public access to roughly a million acres of private lands across the nation. As one of the few Conservation Title programs that does not receive baseline funding, VPA-HIP could be at risk as the next Farm Bill is debated. Fortunately, thanks to the leadership of Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) leaders and members in both chambers, efforts are underway to not only protect VPA-HIP, but to increase federal investments in this critical program.

Highlights:

  • Last week, former CSC Leader Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and CSC Member Dusty Johnson (R-SD) introduced the bipartisan Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act of 2023 in the House of Representatives.
  • This introduction follows the bill’s bipartisan introduction in the Senate by CSC Members Senator Steve Daines (R-MT), Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO), and CSC Vice-Chair Senator Roger Marshall (R-KS).
  • The VPA Improvement Act of 2023 seeks to not only renew the program, but to increase investments in VPA-HIP from the $50 million authorization level in 2018 to $150 million over the life of the next Farm Bill, a top Farm Bill ask for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation.

While every program authorized under the Farm Bill’s Conservation Title provides benefits to fish and wildlife, no program provides as direct a benefit for sportsmen and women as VPA-HIP. By providing state fish and wildlife agencies with the resources needed to partner with landowners who voluntarily agree to open their property for public hunting, fishing, and other wildlife-dependent recreation, VPA-HIP is helping address one of the most limiting factors facing sportsmen and women in America today – access.

Despite the resounding success, and a strong reported return on investment generated by the program, VPA-HIP is one of a few Conservation Title programs that does not receive baseline funding in the Farm Bill. Unlike baseline programs like the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and others, VPA-HIP requires additional investments to ensure its continued authorization. Fortunately for the sportsmen and wildlife supported by VPA-HIP, support for the program remains strong among the sporting-conservation community and within the halls of Congress.

Following the introduction of the bipartisan VPA Improvement Act of 2023 in the Senate by CSC Member Senators Daines and Bennet and CSC Vice-Chair Senator Marshall in April, former CSC Leader Congresswoman Debbie Dingell and CSC Member Dusty Johnson recently introduced the bipartisan companion in the House. Each of these bills seek to increase federal investments in VPA-HIP, raising funding from the $50 million authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill, to $150 million over the life of the next Farm Bill. This investment was specifically requested by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and many of our partners in the sporting-conservation community as we seek to secure robust investments for conservation in the next Farm Bill.

 

VICTORIES SECURED ACROSS THE GREAT PLAINS REGION

ARTICLE CONTACT: JAKE GOULD

Why it Matters: Victories not only come in the form of passing legislation that supports our time-honored traditions, but also through the defeat of legislation that aims to negatively impact the activities that we all hold dear. Since the legislative sessions in the Great Plains have been adjourned, now is a great time to look back at some of the victories from this past session.

Highlights:

  • Across the Great Plains region, each state faced their own challenges during the legislative session. Despite this, there are still conservation victories to be celebrated.
  • The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) was active in the Great Plains supporting legislation that benefits sportsmen and women and our time-honored traditions, while also defending against legislation that would negatively impact those traditions.
  • Because some states do provide the opportunity to carry legislation forward to the next session, bills that neither passed nor were defeated, and can therefore be considered next year, are not discussed below.

With all the state legislatures in the Great Plains region adjourned for 2023, now is a great time to look back at some of the victories secured within the region:

In Nebraska, the price of several nonresident hunting and fishing licenses that the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) offers received a much-needed increase. Nebraska Legislative Bill 565, introduced by Nebraska Legislative Sportsmen’s Forum Chair Senator Bostelman, increases the cost of nonresident licenses, providing a critical boost in conservation funding through the American System of Conservation Funding. As the costs associated with natural resource management continue to increase yearly, this increase in the price of licenses allows sportsmen and women to continue their proud history of serving as our nation’s primary funder of state-level conservation efforts – helping NGPC in their successful management of the Cornhusker State’s public trust resources.

Staying in Nebraska, CSF worked with partners to protect the NGPC from unnecessary financial burden in the form of additional payments in lieu of taxes (PILTs). Nebraska Legislative Bill 398 would have required NGPC to make PILTs for all property ever acquired by the Commission at a rate equivalent to the highest and best use of each property, rather than making payments solely on properties acquired after Nebraska’s PILT system was established. This increase in expenses would have pulled resources away from their important conservation work and ultimately diverted sportsmen-generated dollars away from fish and wildlife conservation. Fortunately, LB 398 was defeated.

In North Dakota, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s (NDGF) management authority was threatened by the introduction of House Bill 1151. This bill aimed to undermine the wildlife management authority of NDGF by restricting their ability to adopt any policy that prohibits the baiting of big game animals for hunting. In opposition to the bill, CSF maintained that that NDGF is the entity best equipped to make science-based wildlife management decisions. Thanks, in part, to oppositional efforts from CSF and several in-state partners HB 1151 failed – ensuring that wildlife management decisions will continue to be made by the entity best equipped to do so.

Also in the Peace Garden State, House Bill 1538, introduced by North Dakota Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Representative Porter, was signed into law, eliminating financial barriers for hosting large-scale fishing tournaments youth fishing competitions. Specifically, HB 1538 removed overly burdensome tournament fees, which proved to be cost-prohibitive for many tournaments, and established the Fishing Conservation Fund, which is appropriated annually to NDGF for the purpose of fishery conservation. This change was designed to reignite tournament fishing in North Dakota while maintaining support for fisheries conservation.

While this is just a snapshot of the work the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation has done in the Great Plains, CSF will continue to advocate and support pro-sportsmen and women legislation to protect our time-honored traditions in the Great Plains, and across the country.

 

SUNDAY HUNTING – FINALLY OPEN ON PUBLIC LANDS IN SOUTH CAROLINA

ARTICLE CONTACT: JOHN CULCLASURE

Why It Matters: Sunday hunting restrictions are Blue Laws with no basis in wildlife management that restrict only one user-group, hunters, from accessing public lands on Sundays. Removing Sunday hunting restrictions in the Palmetto State is a priority for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF), the Sunday Hunting Coalition, the South Carolina Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus, and in-state partners; and the opening of limited Sunday hunting opportunities this fall is the first significant step towards fully repealing all Sunday hunting restrictions in the state.

Highlights:

  • For the first time in South Carolina’s history, hunters will be allowed to hunt some public lands on Sundays this fall.
  • Wildlife Management Area (WMA) regulations approved this spring that became effective May 26 open Sunday hunting on seven WMAs and two National Forests from October 15 – January 31 for identified species.
  • Roughly 695,000 acres of public land will now be accessible to hunters to seven days a week for three and a half months of the year which is an important victory for sportsmen and women that rely on public land for hunting access.

The approved modifications to WMA Regulation 2.5 that open Sunday hunting on limited public lands for a segment of the hunting season are the culmination of a multi-year effort led by the South Carolina Legislative Caucus (Caucus). Caucus Co-Chair Representative Bobby Cox introduced legislation two years in a row to repeal the Sunday hunting prohibition, and a wide range of conservation partners worked with the Caucus and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to identify lands where there was strong support for opening Sunday hunting.

The 2021 report “Exploring the Modification of Sunday Hunting Restrictions on Wildlife Management Areas in South Carolina” showed strong support for opening Sunday hunting on WMAs.

Lands open to Sunday hunting from October 15 to January 31 include the Belfast WMA, Edisto River WMA, Hamilton Ridge WMA, Liberty Hill WMA, Palachucola WMA, Webb WMA, Woodbury WMA, the Sumter National Forest, and the Francis Marion National Forest. For additional information, please reference the information provided by the DNR.

CSF would again like to express our sincere gratitude to Representative Bobby Cox, the Caucus, and partners for their advocacy to allow hunters to access public lands seven days a week like other user-groups.

States Involved: SC

Policy Corner Brief: AUGUST 2023 This article is published in the issue.
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Policy Corner Brief: AUGUST 2023

NASC EXECUTIVE COUNCIL HOLDS SUCCESSFUL MID-YEAR MEETING IN OKLAHOMA

Why It Matters:  The National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses (NASC) Executive Council is a bipartisan group of state sportsmen-legislators who lead the NASC network by providing advice to the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) on the administration of the NASC program. Representing states from Alaska to Maine, and South Carolina to New Mexico, Executive Council Members collectively possess decades of legislative experience dealing with complex sportsmen’s issues, and their service to CSF and to the NASC network is critical to protecting outdoor sporting traditions for future generations.

Highlights:

  • On July 17, the National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses Executive Council met in Monkey Island, Oklahoma for their annual Mid-Year Meeting.
  • With logistical support provided by CSF, the Mid-Year Meeting is the NASC Executive Council’s annual summer meeting where issues impacting hunters and anglers are discussed and programmatic planning for the NASC network is undertaken.
  • Planning for the 20th Annual NASC Sportsman-Legislator Summit in Dewey Beach, Delaware was an emphasis of the meeting.

Elected by their peers to serve two-year terms, Executive Council Members are committed to the mission and goals of NASC and serve as an advisory entity for CSF’s management of the NASC program. The 50 state sportsmen’s caucuses and roughly 2,000 state legislators that are members of their respective state sportsmen’s caucuses are guided by the leadership of the Executive Council. which works with CSF to formulate pro-sportsmen policy and facilitates information sharing among state sportsmen’s caucuses, conservation partners, and industry.

Executive Council Members discussed a wide range of topics at the 2023 Mid-Year Meeting, including state and federal policy updates, emerging issues and trends, state caucus infrastructure improvements, NASC regional policy forums, CSF’s Summer Webinar Series, and the development of new Issue Briefs, among others. Outside of the business meeting, Executive Council Members took time to enjoy some of the angling opportunities available on Grand Lake.

CSF would like to thank Representative Kevin Wallace for hosting the meeting and showcasing the Sooner State’s hospitality and would like to further thank the Oklahoma Sportsmen’s Fund, Inc. for underwriting the event. Working in conjunction with the Executive Council, CSF is excited about the next 20 years of the NASC network.

 

CSF STRIDENTLY OPPOSES MINNESOTA DNR’S EMERGENCY ORDER PROHIBITING LEAD AMMUNITION ON CERTAIN STATE LANDS

ARTICLE CONTACT: BOB MATTHEWS

Why It Matters: Across the United States, state fish and wildlife agencies make management decisions based on impacts to species at the population-level. Straying from this nearly universally practiced approach – particularly when creating a rule to prohibit lead ammunition, which is not readily available to meet the demands of sportsmen and women – may unnecessarily threaten the conservation of wildlife and their habitats through decreased conservation funding.

Highlights:

  • The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued an emergency order prohibiting the use of lead ammunition on the state’s fifty-six Scientific and Natural Areas (SNAs).
  • The order did not go through the formal rulemaking process, which would have required the DNR propose the regulation and then allow the public to provide comments.
  • The DNR issued a similar emergency order in August 2022, only to reverse the order two months later in October, explicitly stating that there was not a sufficient supply of non-lead ammunition readily available, which would have significantly reduced participation and therefore adversely affected deer population management in the state.
  • The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) strongly opposes the DNR order, given that it is not supported by the verifiable and repeatable scientific evidence that typically informs wildlife management decisions. Further, the order is likely to have negative financial ramifications on the DNR itself and the state’s economy, as hunting generates nearly $1.4 billion dollars each year in Minnesota.

The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation delivered a letter to the Minnesota DNR in strong opposition to its recent emergency order creating a rule that prohibits the use of lead ammunition on Minnesota’s fifty-six Scientific and Natural Areas. Wildlife management decisions by state agencies, including the Minnesota DNR, are made at the population-level rather than based on individual instances, and there is no verified or repeatable scientific evidence determining that lead ammunition impacts wildlife species at this population-level.

Further, in the current market conditions, non-lead ammunition is not readily available for hunters to purchase and utilize afield – something that the Minnesota DNR explicitly acknowledged in 2022 when it reversed a similar emergency order banning lead ammunition on certain state lands. The DNR admitted that without a supply of lead ammunition capable of meeting market demands, hunter participation would be reduced, and in turn the significant management benefits that hunters offer to white-tailed deer populations would be curtailed. The market conditions surrounding ammunition remain largely unchanged from a year ago, and in a time where fewer and fewer Americans are participating in hunting, this rule continues to increase barriers to participate and undermines the DNR’s ability to carry out its mission of conserving the state’s wildlife populations.

The Minnesota DNR relies on the unique “user pays – public benefits” structure of the American System of Conservation Funding, and given this rule’s negative impacts on both hunter participation and the ability for sportsmen and women to purchase the ammunition necessary to hunt, this rule stands to reduce revenue that the DNR would receive from the sale of hunting licenses and from excise taxes levied on outdoor sporting goods. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), last year hunting licenses alone generated more than $34 million for the Minnesota DNR – and when matched by the USFWS with Wildlife Restoration dollars (excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, and other items), that number grew to more than $68 million for the agency. On top of reducing the financial contributions that hunters make to support the DNR’s conservation efforts, this rule would also harm the financial benefit that hunting offers to the state, as the most recent estimates indicate that hunting contributes nearly $1.4 billion to Minnesota’s economy.

This emergency order stands to harm the strong community of Minnesota sportsmen and women that have long supported the DNR by creating an unnecessary barrier to participate in hunting. The ramifications of this rule pervade not only the outdoor traditions that Minnesotans have practiced for generations, but the conservation efforts of the DNR itself. CSF will continue to oppose this rule and others like it, which are not founded on established scientific evidence and instead undermine the very principles of wildlife conservation in America.

States Involved: MN

 

CSF LEADS EFFORT WITH SENATE CSC LEADERSHIP TO PASS DUCK STAMP MODERNIZATION ACT

July 28, 2023 (Washington, D.C.) – Yesterday evening, the U.S. Senate passed a top priority for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) known as the Duck Stamp Modernization Act of 2023 (S. 788). This bipartisan bill is led by the entire Senate Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus Leadership, Co-Chairs Sens. John Boozman and Joe Manchin and Vice-Chairs Sens. Angus King and Roger Marshall.

Prior to the vote, CSF worked with the bill sponsors and key offices to help navigate this bill through the political process and ultimately a successful floor vote. The Senate passage of this bill builds upon the House Natural Resources Committee passage of the House companion bill led by CSC Vice-Chair Rep. Garret Graves and CSC Member Rep. Mike Thompson.

The Duck Stamp Modernization Act will simplify the Federal Duck Stamp process by allowing hunters to have an electronic duck stamp on their smartphone for the entirety of the hunting season. Under current law, when a hunter purchases an electronic Federal Duck Stamp (e-stamp), the e-stamp is only valid for a period of 45 days to allow for the actual stamp to be mailed. Once the actual stamp is received by the e-stamp purchaser, the actual stamp must be signed by the respective hunter across the face of the stamp and be in the hunter’s possession while afield. However, this legislation will remove the 45-day validation period and make the electronic stamp valid for the entirety of the hunting season. To ensure the continuance and integrity of the Federal Duck Stamp art contest, a longstanding tradition for waterfowlers and other bird enthusiasts alike, S. 788 will ensure that purchasers of e-stamps still receive the actual stamp in the mail. Specifically, the legislation will provide that actual stamps will be mailed to purchasers from March 10 to June 30.

“The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation thanks the Senate CSC Leadership for shepherding the Duck Stamp Modernization Act through the Senate on a unanimous vote,” said CSF President and CEO Jeff Crane. “This legislation not only improves the Federal duck stamp process for nearly one million waterfowl hunters, but it also safeguards the rich history and traditions of the Federal Duck Stamp artwork contest.”

Signed into law in 1934, the Federal Duck Stamp has generated over $1.1 billion for wetlands conservation and helped conserve over 6 million acres of wetlands within the National Wildlife Refuge System. In 1934, there were roughly 635,000 stamps sold. Today, that number has grown to over 1.5 million stamp purchases, which generates more than $37.5 million for wetlands conservation. Importantly, approximately 98% of the Federal Duck Stamp purchase price is spent directly on the management and acquisition of wetlands to bolster habitat for wetland dependent species such as ducks, geese, shorebirds, fish, turtles, and countless others.

S. 788 now heads to the House for further consideration. CSF will continue to work with the Congressional Sportsmen’s Leaders and House Leadership to see that this bill passes the House and goes to the President’s desk for signature.

 

CSF CONCERNED WITH RESTRICTIONS OF FUNDING FOR HUNTER EDUCATION AND OTHER SCHOOL PROGRAMS

ARTICLE CONTACT: TAYLOR SCHMITZ

Why it matters: Hunter education, archery in schools, wilderness courses, and other outdoor focused school activities provide unmatched enrichment opportunities for students from all walks of life. These programs provide critical life skills for students and, according to teachers engaged with these programs, student participation has been correlated with improvements in academic performance, behavior, and school attendance. Unfortunately, some of these programs are at risk of losing important federal funding.

  • As part of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) that was signed into law last year, Congress amended a comprehensive school funding program known as the Elementary and Secondary Schools Education Act (ESEA), which is utilized by some state level Departments of Education to fund archery in schools, wilderness courses, archery programs, among others.
  • When Congress made the modifications to the ESEA through the BSCA, the legislative branch included language to prohibit the use of ESEA funds for the training of personnel in the use of a “dangerous weapon”. The intent of Congress in making this amendment to ESEA was to prohibit ESEA funds from being used for training school resource officers and other security personnel.
  • Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Education is taking the definition of “dangerous weapon” at face value rather than following the legislative intent of Congress, which is now threatening the future of school activities such as archery, hunter education, among many others.

In June 2022, Congress passed, and President Biden signed into law the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. When the BSCA passed, an overarching school funding program known as the Elementary and Second Schools Education Act was altered to prohibit ESEA funds from being used for training school security personnel in the use a “dangerous weapon”, which is now undermining many important school programs.

The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) is actively working to reverse the direction of the U.S. Department of Education to ensure that these programs remain intact for millions of students across the country. CSF is working with Leaders and Members of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus to make it clear that the intent of Congress was not to undermine these longstanding enrichment programs. While we are hopeful the Department of Education will revisit the intent of Congress in the BSCA and revise its interpretation to protect the programs at-risk, CSF has also endorsed a legislative fix (H.R. 5110) to address this issue. Led by Rep. Mark Green (TN) and former CSC Leader Rep. Richard Hudson (NC) H.R. 5110 will make it clear that the BSCA was not intended to prohibit ESEA funds for the activities in question.

The BSCA amended the ESEA to prohibit funds from being used for the purposes of training personnel in the use of a “dangerous weapon”, which is defined in federal statute as “a weapon, device, instrument, material, or substance, animate or inanimate, that is used for, or is readily capable of, causing death or serious bodily injury, except that such term does not include a pocket knife with a blade of less than 2½ inches in length”. Importantly, the legislative intent of Congress was not to restrict ESEA funds for the aforementioned activities.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Education is interpreting the inclusion of “dangerous weapon” at face value by using the strict definition of “dangerous weapon” rather than following the legislative intent of Congress, which is leading to the cancellation of school programs such as hunter education, archery, wilderness courses, school sponsored shooting teams, among many other critically important activities for America’s youth.

Again, CSF is hopeful that the Department of Education will follow the legislative intent of Congress to maintain the vitality of these programs. CSF will continue to work to address this issue.

 

FIVE KEY LEGISLATIVE VICTORIES FROM THE GREAT LAKES REGION

ARTICLE CONTACT: BOB MATTHEWS

Why It Matters: As most state legislatures across the country have adjourned, the tail-end of summer offers a chance to reflect on policy victories in the conservation sphere while looking forward to securing more victories in remaining states that meet year-round.

  • In the Great Lakes region, state legislatures in Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota have adjourned for the year (although Illinois often reconvenes for a few weeks at the end of the year).
  • The state legislatures in Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin meet year-round. After working on budget negotiations in the first half of the year, legislators often take a break during the end of summer to return to their home districts and prepare for the last few months of the legislative session.
  • In 2023, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) has worked closely in the Great Lakes States to secure policy victories that benefit hunters, anglers, recreational shooters, and trappers; as well as our fish and wildlife resources, and their habitats.

With state legislatures either adjourned or in recess, August offers an opportunity to look back on the legislative year thus far and celebrate some of the key victories that CSF has helped secure for sportsmen and women in the Great Lakes States:

  • Illinois residents that have not purchased a fishing license in the last ten years may purchase a license at a one-time discounted rate. Because residents do not need to purchase a fishing license until they are 16 years of age, and to ensure that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) doesn’t lose any revenue, the discount only applies to residents aged 26 and older. This bill, HB 2317, which was signed by the Governor in June, seeks to tap into a group of non-angling Illinoisans to bolster the DNR’s revenue stream while broadening the state’s fishing community.
  • Sportsmen and women in Illinois may continue to share ammunition while afield or at the shooting range. HB 1057, introduced and considered in the Illinois House of Representatives, would have required that anyone attempting to transfer ammunition to another person holds a Federal Firearm License (FFL). This would have been detrimental to common practices by most hunters and recreational shooters in the state, who would have been unable to share guns and ammunition while enjoying our time-honored outdoor traditions.
  • Michigan sportsmen and women will not need a license to simply possess or share a firearm. As originally written, a package of bills introduced in both the state’s House and Senate would have required that any person in possession of a firearm also carry a license for that firearm, which would have prohibited anyone in the state from simply handing a gun to a friend while afield or at a shooting range. CSF and both in-state and national partners successfully worked diligently to nix that language.
  • In Minnesota, crossbows will be fully incorporated into the state’s archery season. Thanks to language included in the Natural Resource omnibus bill, culminating a multi-year effort by CSF, hunters in the North Star State may now use crossbows to hunt deer, bear, turkey, and rough fish during those species’ respective archery seasons, regardless of age. Expanding crossbow opportunities is designed to bolster recruitment, retention, and reactivation efforts in the state, while simultaneously contributing to Minnesota’s fish and wildlife population management efforts.
  • In Ohio, out-of-state college students will be considered residents for the purpose of purchasing hunting and fishing licenses. Given the costs students incur attending a school outside of their original home state, students are often unable to afford non-resident hunting and angling licenses, resulting in lower participation rates among this key demographic of sportsmen and women. Allowing these students to purchase licenses as if they were residents of the state alleviates this burdensome cost and instead encourages students to participate in the state’s storied outdoor pursuits.

These successes are only a glimpse of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation’s impact in the Great Lakes States – let alone the entire country. In the past five years alone CSF has helped secure more than 1,000 victories for sportsmen and women, our fish and wildlife resources, and their habitats, and we will continue to expand that tally by protecting and advancing pro-conservation legislation in states all across the nation and on Capitol Hill in the months and years ahead.

 

CSC MEMBERS DINGELL AND JOHNSON INTRODUCE VPA IMPROVEMENT ACT IN THE HOUSE

ARTICLE CONTACT: KENT KEENETAYLOR SCHMITZ

Why it Matters: Arguably the most important access program in the Farm Bill for sportsmen and women, the Voluntary Public Access – Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP) has expanded public access to roughly a million acres of private lands across the nation. As one of the few Conservation Title programs that does not receive baseline funding, VPA-HIP could be at risk as the next Farm Bill is debated. Fortunately, thanks to the leadership of Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) leaders and members in both chambers, efforts are underway to not only protect VPA-HIP, but to increase federal investments in this critical program.

Highlights:

  • Last week, former CSC Leader Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and CSC Member Dusty Johnson (R-SD) introduced the bipartisan Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act of 2023 in the House of Representatives.
  • This introduction follows the bill’s bipartisan introduction in the Senate by CSC Members Senator Steve Daines (R-MT), Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO), and CSC Vice-Chair Senator Roger Marshall (R-KS).
  • The VPA Improvement Act of 2023 seeks to not only renew the program, but to increase investments in VPA-HIP from the $50 million authorization level in 2018 to $150 million over the life of the next Farm Bill, a top Farm Bill ask for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation.

While every program authorized under the Farm Bill’s Conservation Title provides benefits to fish and wildlife, no program provides as direct a benefit for sportsmen and women as VPA-HIP. By providing state fish and wildlife agencies with the resources needed to partner with landowners who voluntarily agree to open their property for public hunting, fishing, and other wildlife-dependent recreation, VPA-HIP is helping address one of the most limiting factors facing sportsmen and women in America today – access.

Despite the resounding success, and a strong reported return on investment generated by the program, VPA-HIP is one of a few Conservation Title programs that does not receive baseline funding in the Farm Bill. Unlike baseline programs like the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and others, VPA-HIP requires additional investments to ensure its continued authorization. Fortunately for the sportsmen and wildlife supported by VPA-HIP, support for the program remains strong among the sporting-conservation community and within the halls of Congress.

Following the introduction of the bipartisan VPA Improvement Act of 2023 in the Senate by CSC Member Senators Daines and Bennet and CSC Vice-Chair Senator Marshall in April, former CSC Leader Congresswoman Debbie Dingell and CSC Member Dusty Johnson recently introduced the bipartisan companion in the House. Each of these bills seek to increase federal investments in VPA-HIP, raising funding from the $50 million authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill, to $150 million over the life of the next Farm Bill. This investment was specifically requested by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and many of our partners in the sporting-conservation community as we seek to secure robust investments for conservation in the next Farm Bill.

 

VICTORIES SECURED ACROSS THE GREAT PLAINS REGION

ARTICLE CONTACT: JAKE GOULD

Why it Matters: Victories not only come in the form of passing legislation that supports our time-honored traditions, but also through the defeat of legislation that aims to negatively impact the activities that we all hold dear. Since the legislative sessions in the Great Plains have been adjourned, now is a great time to look back at some of the victories from this past session.

Highlights:

  • Across the Great Plains region, each state faced their own challenges during the legislative session. Despite this, there are still conservation victories to be celebrated.
  • The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) was active in the Great Plains supporting legislation that benefits sportsmen and women and our time-honored traditions, while also defending against legislation that would negatively impact those traditions.
  • Because some states do provide the opportunity to carry legislation forward to the next session, bills that neither passed nor were defeated, and can therefore be considered next year, are not discussed below.

With all the state legislatures in the Great Plains region adjourned for 2023, now is a great time to look back at some of the victories secured within the region:

In Nebraska, the price of several nonresident hunting and fishing licenses that the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) offers received a much-needed increase. Nebraska Legislative Bill 565, introduced by Nebraska Legislative Sportsmen’s Forum Chair Senator Bostelman, increases the cost of nonresident licenses, providing a critical boost in conservation funding through the American System of Conservation Funding. As the costs associated with natural resource management continue to increase yearly, this increase in the price of licenses allows sportsmen and women to continue their proud history of serving as our nation’s primary funder of state-level conservation efforts – helping NGPC in their successful management of the Cornhusker State’s public trust resources.

Staying in Nebraska, CSF worked with partners to protect the NGPC from unnecessary financial burden in the form of additional payments in lieu of taxes (PILTs). Nebraska Legislative Bill 398 would have required NGPC to make PILTs for all property ever acquired by the Commission at a rate equivalent to the highest and best use of each property, rather than making payments solely on properties acquired after Nebraska’s PILT system was established. This increase in expenses would have pulled resources away from their important conservation work and ultimately diverted sportsmen-generated dollars away from fish and wildlife conservation. Fortunately, LB 398 was defeated.

In North Dakota, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s (NDGF) management authority was threatened by the introduction of House Bill 1151. This bill aimed to undermine the wildlife management authority of NDGF by restricting their ability to adopt any policy that prohibits the baiting of big game animals for hunting. In opposition to the bill, CSF maintained that that NDGF is the entity best equipped to make science-based wildlife management decisions. Thanks, in part, to oppositional efforts from CSF and several in-state partners HB 1151 failed – ensuring that wildlife management decisions will continue to be made by the entity best equipped to do so.

Also in the Peace Garden State, House Bill 1538, introduced by North Dakota Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Representative Porter, was signed into law, eliminating financial barriers for hosting large-scale fishing tournaments youth fishing competitions. Specifically, HB 1538 removed overly burdensome tournament fees, which proved to be cost-prohibitive for many tournaments, and established the Fishing Conservation Fund, which is appropriated annually to NDGF for the purpose of fishery conservation. This change was designed to reignite tournament fishing in North Dakota while maintaining support for fisheries conservation.

While this is just a snapshot of the work the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation has done in the Great Plains, CSF will continue to advocate and support pro-sportsmen and women legislation to protect our time-honored traditions in the Great Plains, and across the country.

 

SUNDAY HUNTING – FINALLY OPEN ON PUBLIC LANDS IN SOUTH CAROLINA

ARTICLE CONTACT: JOHN CULCLASURE

Why It Matters: Sunday hunting restrictions are Blue Laws with no basis in wildlife management that restrict only one user-group, hunters, from accessing public lands on Sundays. Removing Sunday hunting restrictions in the Palmetto State is a priority for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF), the Sunday Hunting Coalition, the South Carolina Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus, and in-state partners; and the opening of limited Sunday hunting opportunities this fall is the first significant step towards fully repealing all Sunday hunting restrictions in the state.

Highlights:

  • For the first time in South Carolina’s history, hunters will be allowed to hunt some public lands on Sundays this fall.
  • Wildlife Management Area (WMA) regulations approved this spring that became effective May 26 open Sunday hunting on seven WMAs and two National Forests from October 15 – January 31 for identified species.
  • Roughly 695,000 acres of public land will now be accessible to hunters to seven days a week for three and a half months of the year which is an important victory for sportsmen and women that rely on public land for hunting access.

The approved modifications to WMA Regulation 2.5 that open Sunday hunting on limited public lands for a segment of the hunting season are the culmination of a multi-year effort led by the South Carolina Legislative Caucus (Caucus). Caucus Co-Chair Representative Bobby Cox introduced legislation two years in a row to repeal the Sunday hunting prohibition, and a wide range of conservation partners worked with the Caucus and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to identify lands where there was strong support for opening Sunday hunting.

The 2021 report “Exploring the Modification of Sunday Hunting Restrictions on Wildlife Management Areas in South Carolina” showed strong support for opening Sunday hunting on WMAs.

Lands open to Sunday hunting from October 15 to January 31 include the Belfast WMA, Edisto River WMA, Hamilton Ridge WMA, Liberty Hill WMA, Palachucola WMA, Webb WMA, Woodbury WMA, the Sumter National Forest, and the Francis Marion National Forest. For additional information, please reference the information provided by the DNR.

CSF would again like to express our sincere gratitude to Representative Bobby Cox, the Caucus, and partners for their advocacy to allow hunters to access public lands seven days a week like other user-groups.

States Involved: SC

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