Policy Corner Brief: DECEMBER 2021
Department of the Interior Announces Establishment of Advisory Council Dedicated to Sportsmen and Women
- Earlier today, the Department of the Interior (DOI) announced the establishment of the Hunting and Wildlife Conservation Council (Council), a Federal Advisory Committee dedicated to supporting and advancing our nation’s time-honored traditions of hunting and recreational shooting.
- This announcement demonstrates the Administration’s continued support for America’s 55 million sportsmen and women and recognizes the important role that hunters, anglers, trappers, and recreational shooters maintain in conservation.
Why it matters: The Hunting and Wildlife Conservation Council builds off previous versions of similar Federal Advisory Councils that have been facilitated to advance the interests of America’s sportsmen and women. These Federal Advisory Councils serve as a unique opportunity to develop and provide recommendations to the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior to promote and advance hunting and the shooting sports. In previous years, the Council has addressed issues related to wildlife disease, closures of federal land to hunting and recreational shooting, federal land management planning decisions, among other issues of importance to sportsmen and women.
This morning, the Department of the Interior announced the establishment of the Hunting and Wildlife Conservation Council, a Federal Advisory Committee dedicated to advancing the interests of America’s sportsmen and women.
For well over a decade and spanning numerous Administrations, similar versions of the Hunting and Wildlife Conservation Council have been in existence to promote the interests of our sporting heritage. During this time, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) has served on every iteration of the Hunting and Wildlife Conservation Council. Most recently, CSF President and CEO Jeff Crane served as the Chairman of the Hunting and Shooting Sports Conservation Council for its entire existence, a role in which he spearheaded over 30 meaningful recommendations to the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture.
In DOI’s announcement of the Council, the Department stated, “the Council will focus on and recommend policies that benefit wildlife resources, encourage partnership among the public, sporting conservation organizations, and federal, state, Tribal and territorial governments, and benefit fair chase recreational hunting and safe recreational shooting sports.”
More information regarding the formation of the Hunting and Wildlife Conservation Council will be made available in the future and noticed in the Federal Register.
Overall Enrollment in Conservation Reserve Program Increases, Challenges Remain
- Following several changes to the administration of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), including many changes supported by the sporting-conservation community, overall enrollment in CRP increased entering FY 2022.
- These increases were primarily seen in Grassland CRP enrollment which conserves lands already planted in grass cover.
- General CRP lost another 1.1 million acres entering 2022, while continuous (non-competitive) CRP signup opportunities netted marginal increases in enrollment.
Why it matters: The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) ranks among the most successful voluntary private land conservation programs in the world. By providing rental payments and technical assistance to landowners who agree to convert lands from commodity production to practices that generate conservation benefits, CRP can benefit the overall agricultural system and nearby ecosystem health. However, high commodity prices and other factors have resulted in decreased enrollment in the program since its high in 2007.
The transition from Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 to 2022 provided a chance to compare enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) following significant changes through the program in the Biden Administration’s first year. While net enrollment in the program increased by approximately 1.5 million acres, the distribution of those acres between available programs, in addition to the gap between enrollment levels and the current statutory enrollment cap, highlight challenges that remain for one of the nation’s most cherished private lands conservation programs.
The largest enrollment gains were seen in the Grasslands CRP option which provides rental payments to landowners who agree to protect existing grasslands from conversion while maintaining the area for grazing. Grasslands CRP enrollment increased by more than 2.2 million acres from FY 2021 to FY 2022. Unfortunately, much of this increase was offset by a decrease in General CRP enrollment which dropped by approximately 1.1 million acres as expiring contracts were not offset by beginning or renewed CRP contracts. Finally, continuous CRP – which accepts contracts on an ongoing, non-competitive basis – saw modest gains with a net increase of 400,000 acres entering FY 2022.
The significant reduction in General CRP and modest gains in continuous CRP enrollment have been attributed to several factors. In an article comparing FY 2021 enrollment to the start of FY 2022, authors from the University of Illinois cited increased commodity prices as a leading cause for this trend. Though the Biden Administration did introduce changes designed to bolster enrollment, including amending rental rate calculations, and moving the popular State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) back to continuous CRP, it is clear that more is needed to ensure that CRP remains a viable option for landowners interested in this critical voluntary program.
Midwest Legislators Elected to NASC Executive Council
- During the 18th Annual National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses (NASC) Sportsman-Legislator Summit, Representative Jeff Wardlaw (AR) and Senator Mark Allen (OK) were elected to the NASC Executive Council (EC).
- The NASC EC helps guide the activities of the NASC network and plays a critical role in advancing the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation’s mission of protecting and advancing hunting, angling, recreational shooting, and trapping.
- Members of the NASC EC are elected for two-year terms by their peers at the NASC Sportsman-Legislator Summit.
Why it matters: During the 18th Annual National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses (NASC) Sportsman-Legislator Summit, two Midwestern legislators were elected to serve as members of the NASC Executive Committee. Representative Jeff Wardlaw, now in his third term, and Senator Allen, in his first term as a full member after serving as an alternate since 2019, will join ten other legislators from around the nation to help guide the NASC network. Working with their colleagues and staff from the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, the EC is critical in NASC’s mission to work with state legislators to protect and advance hunting, angling, recreational shooting, and trapping.
From December 8-10, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) hosted the largest gathering of pro-sportsmen legislators, agency staff, and outdoor industry representatives for the 18th Annual National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses (NASC) Sportsman-Legislator Summit in Little Rock, AR. During this multi-day and one-of-a-kind Summit, Representative Jeff Wardlaw of Arkansas and Senator Mark Allen of Oklahoma were both elected to serve as members of the NASC Executive Council (EC). This will be Representative Wardlaw’s third term as a member of the EC and will be Senator Allen’s first term after serving as an alternate member since 2019.
Elected for two-year terms by fellow state legislative sportsmen’s caucus members from across the country who attend the annual Summit, members of the EC help to guide the NASC program. The Council assists with the establishment and promotion of pro-sportsmen ideas, and facilitates the sharing of information between state caucuses, conservation partners, and allied industries. The EC plays a critical role in the protection and advancement of hunting and angling rights and the continuation of our sportsmen’s heritage by helping to guide the activities of NASC, assisting with policy development, setting guidelines for affiliated state caucuses, as well as media outreach intended to highlight the role hunting, angling, recreational shooting, and trapping play in supporting conservation policies that also benefit our nation’s social and economic well-being.
In addition to his reelection to the EC, Representative Wardlaw was presented with a NASC Heritage Award recognizing his recent efforts to further sportsmen’s interests in the state of Arkansas. During the 2021 legislative session, Representative Wardlaw sponsored and successfully passed a bill that, among other things, prevented Arkansas from losing eligibility to receive millions of dollars in Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration (WSFR) funding. This “user pays – public benefits” system of fish and wildlife conservation funding, known as the American System of Conservation Funding, is the most successful model of conservation funding in the world.
Established in 2004 by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, NASC provides the synergy to protect and advance hunting, angling, recreational shooting, trapping, and professional fish and wildlife management in state capitols. With more than 2,000 legislators from 49 state legislative sportsmen’s caucuses, this unprecedented network of pro-sportsmen legislators provides the nexus and support among the state caucuses which is critical to the successful advancement of pro-sportsmen policies across the nation.
Signature Gathering Underway for Initiatives to Restrict Firearm Ownership in Oregon
Contact: Keely Hopkins, Pacific States Assistant Manager
- Two initiative petitions that would restrict firearm ownership in Oregon have been approved for signature gathering to be placed on the 2022 ballot. If passed, Initiative Petition 17 would require a permit to purchase a firearm and ban standard capacity magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds, and Initiative Petition 18 would ban most semiautomatic firearms.
- Modern sporting rifles with standard capacity magazines are commonly found in the hands of hunters and recreational shooters throughout the nation and are used for a wide variety of legitimate purchases including hunting, shooting sports, and personal defense.
- Semiautomatic firearms like the modern sporting rifle are one of the most popular types of firearms in America. Their sales each year actively contribute to the American System of Conservation Funding (ASCF) through taxes that support state fish and wildlife agencies and their critical conservation efforts.
Why It Matters: Oregon’s law-abiding hunters and recreational shooters have long played a vital role in funding conservation and wildlife management efforts throughout the state. Under the American System of Conservation Funding (ASCF), a unique “user pays – public benefits” structure, Oregon’s sportsmen and women generate tens of millions of dollars each year for the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife. These funds are generated through license sales and a 10-11% federal excise tax on sporting-related goods, including firearm purchases. If passed, Initiative Petitions 17 and 18 would significantly impact conservation funding in the state by prohibiting the purchase of one of the most popular and commonly owned firearms, thereby decreasing the tax revenue available for wildlife management and conservation.
Coming just months after signature gathering began for Initiative Petition 13, a proposed measure that would ban all hunting, fishing and trapping in the state, Oregon now faces two additional ballot measures that would impact hunting and conservation efforts. Initiative Petition 17, which would require a permit to purchase a firearm and ban standard capacity magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds, and Initiative Petition 18 that would ban most semiautomatic firearms, have now been approved for signature gathering.
Both initiatives target some of the most popular and widely owned firearms in America. Modern sporting rifles with standard capacity magazines are commonly found in the hands of hunters and recreational shooters and are relied upon for their durability and versatility. Initiative Petition 17 and 18, if passed, would restrict access to these firearms for hunting and recreational shooting purposes, and would also reduce conservation funding in the state through decreased firearm sales.
Each year, Oregon’s hunters and recreational shooters contribute tens of millions of dollars to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, providing vital revenue to help carry out their mission of managing the state’s diverse fish and wildlife, and the habitats upon which they depend. Under the Pittman-Robertson Act, Oregon’s hunters and recreational shooters pay a 10-11% excise tax on all firearm purchases, which in turn helps fund a large portion of the state’s wildlife management, conservation, and research efforts. Initiative Petition 17 and 18, if passed, would ban the sale of some of the most commonly purchased firearms, thereby significantly decreasing the tax revenue available for conservation funding from which all Oregon residents enjoy.
Proponents for these initiatives, including for Initiative Petition 13, will have until July of next year to gather just over 112,000 signatures to qualify for the 2022 ballot. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation is on the ground in Oregon and actively working with our partners in opposition to these initiatives as they move forward through the process.
Lifetime License for Youth Sportsmen Introduced in Kansas
Contact: Kent Keene, Senior Coordinator, Lower Midwestern States and Agriculture Policy
- Kansas Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Representative Ken Corbet has pre-filed a billed to create a lifetime combination hunting/angling license for Kansas youth.
- This license would be available for adults to purchase for children ages five and younger.
- Following recent increases in participation in hunting, angling, and other outdoor activities following years of declines, expect to see bills similar in other states as efforts to capitalize on this newfound interest continue.
Why It Matters: Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, participation in traditional outdoor activities, like hunting and angling, were steadily declining. However, one of the impacts of the pandemic was a resurgence in interest for activities such as hunting and angling that provided an opportunity for individuals to recreate safely. As the effects of the pandemic begin to subside and American life returns to a sense of normalcy, efforts to maintain the rediscovered interest in our outdoor heritage will be a goal of legislators, state fish and wildlife agencies, and members of the sporting-conservation community.
As we approach the 2022 legislative sessions across the country, legislators, state fish and wildlife agency officials, and members of the sporting-conservation community are searching for ways to maintain the recently rediscovered interest in outdoor activities like hunting and fishing. This positive trend has largely been attributed to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the success of campaigns such as the #ResponsibleRecreation initiative which highlights the benefits of these activities during the most challenging portions of the pandemic.
In Kansas, Representative Ken Corbet, a Co-Chair of the Kansas Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus, is among those to take the first shot at maintaining this participation. On November 12, Representative Corbet pre-filed House Bill 2456, which seeks to create an affordable lifetime combination hunting/fishing license that can be purchased for children until they reach five years of age. The intent of this license is to provide parents and other adults with an opportunity to invest in the future of their children’s outdoor pursuits.
While data on participation rates for the 2021 hunting and fishing seasons continue to be calculated, legislators, state agencies, and members of the sporting-conservation community are closely watching and hoping that this interest will continue. In addition to strengthening the ranks of hunters and anglers and providing additional voices to speak out against those who seek to undermine our time-honored traditions, this increase in participation supports state conservation efforts around the country thanks to the associated increase in contributions to the American System of Conservation Funding.
As Kansas House Bill 2456 and other bills are introduced throughout the 2022 legislative sessions, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation looks forward to working with legislators, state agency officials, and our partners to support efforts to increase and maintain interest in our outdoor traditions. Stay tuned to The Sportsmen’s Voice for updates throughout the session.
Legislation in The Great Lakes State Would Protect Citizens’ Second Amendment Rights in Times of Emergency
Contact: Nick Buggia, Senior Coordinator, Upper Midwestern States Manager
- Michigan House Bills 5187 & 5188 would amend the “Emergency Management Act” and “Public Health Code” to disallow future emergency orders that would “prohibit, suspend, or limit” the firearm industry and Second Amendment rights of Michigan residents.
- This type of legislation helps to protect hunters and sports shooters from restrictions we saw early in the COVID-19 pandemic by exempting the firearm industry from being affected during shutdowns and reinforcing our Second Amendment rights.
- Hunting and shooting sports are ways to improve your mental health, social distance, and provide food security. This legislation helps to ensure the ability to participate in these activities remains un-interrupted.
Why it Matters: Similar legislation has been popping up around the country in response to restrictions established during the COVID-19 pandemic. HB 5187 & 5188 would protect the firearms industry and the Second Amendment rights of Michigan citizens during another pandemic or similar emergency. This legislation ensures that executive orders issued during an emergency cannot be used to undermine the firearms industry and the ability of Michigan’s citizens to acquire and use firearms. Citizens should have the means to participate in activities that are safe, improve mental health and physical health, and help to provide food security for themselves, their family, and community.
It was reported earlier that the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation testified in support of House Bills 5187 & 5188, sponsored by several Michigan Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus members. These bills have now moved out of committee and are currently on second reading in the House. These bills would limit the state’s ability to place restrictions on the firearm industry during a state of emergency. This bill package accomplishes this by amending the “Emergency Management Act” and “Public Health Code” to disallow future emergency orders to “prohibit, suspend, or limit” the firearm industry and Second Amendment rights of Michigan residents. This type of legislation has been introduced and passed in several states in response to many of the emergency orders we saw across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic. While Michigan did not see such restrictions during the pandemic, these types of restrictions were seen in surrounding states.
During the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, Michigan prohibited the use of motorized boats. Fortunately, the prohibition was soon lifted after the sportsmen’s community in the state rallied in opposition. These bills are designed to prevent future unnecessary prohibitions and ensure that sportsmen and women can continue to participate in outdoor activities. Protecting the Second Amendment rights of Michiganders, especially during times of emergency, is essential and helps to improve both physical and mental wellness, promotes social distancing, and can help ensure food security in uncertain times.
The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and partners have supported similar bills as a step to safeguard our Second Amendment rights during emergencies. We will continue to support these bills and update you as they progress through the legislative process.
MAPLand Act Easily Passes Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee
- Last week, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed S. 904, the Modernizing Access to Our Public Land (MAPLand) Act, under a voice vote – demonstrating the widespread support for this critical legislation.
- In March, Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) Member Senator Jim Risch was joined by eight bipartisan Senators, including CSC Co-Chair Senator Martin Heinrich, CSC Vice-Chair Senator Joe Manchin, and six CSC members, in reintroducing the MAPLand Act.
- In July, the House Natural Resources Committee unanimously passed the House companion bill.
Why it matters: Digital mapping and GPS technologies have fundamentally changed how sportsmen and women traverse federal lands, however, inconsistent, and outdated record keeping practices amongst federal land management agencies hinders the ability of sportsmen and women to fully take advantage of these technologies, which will be addressed in part by the MAPLand Act. This bipartisan bill has now passed both Committees of jurisdiction in Congress with strong bipartisan support – helping pave the way for a future floor vote.
On November 18, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed the bipartisan Modernizing Access to Our Public Lands Act, on a voice vote – a sign of the strong bipartisan support for this innovative legislation.
Millions of America’s hunters, anglers, and recreational shooters rely on public lands and waters for recreation. When planning a hunting or fishing trip, any sportsmen and women can attest to the fact they spend countless hours glossing over maps on their computers or their handheld devices to get a better idea of the land or waterscape before they go afield.
Unfortunately, the federal land management agencies most important to sportsmen and women, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Forest Service, among others, lack the necessary financial resources to digitize and modernize mapping information for the lands they manage to make this process easier on sportsmen and women. For example, through no fault of their own, it is estimated the U.S. Forest has only digitized roughly 5,000 of their 37,000 recorded easements.
To address this challenge and to bring public land mapping information into the 21st century, the MAPLand Act will authorize much needed financial resources over three years for the Secretaries of the Interior, Agriculture, and Army to accelerate the modernization and digitization of public land mapping information. The MAPLand Act also requires that public land management agencies make their information publicly available on their respective websites to be easily accessible by the public.
If enacted, the MAPLAND Act would provide better information as to: easements and rights-of-ways, whether roads and trails are open to the public, allowable types of vehicles, hunting and recreational shooting boundaries, and information on allowable types of watercraft, which is all vital information to sportsmen and women.
With the MAPLand Act passing the respective Committees of jurisdiction in the House and the Senate, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation will work to see this important bill be scheduled for a floor vote in both chambers.
CSF Supports Proposed Quail Habitat Management Project in Tennessee
Contact: Mark Lance, Southeastern States Coordinator
- On October 4, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) presented their proposed wildlife habitat improvement plan, primarily directed towards supporting northern bobwhite quail, on the Bridgestone/Firestone Wildlife Management Area (WMA) at the Sparta, TN Civic Center during a public meeting.
- The meeting was scheduled to hear concerns regarding the harvesting of timber on the Bridgestone/Firestone WMA.
- The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) submitted a letter to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency in support of their proposed habitat management plan.
Why it Matters: The establishment of an oak/pine savanna would create quality habitat for quail populations which have been on a continual decline across the Southeast and increase opportunities for hunters. The project would also provide critical habitat diversity that would benefit several other game and non-game wildlife species.
Some residents that live near the Bridgestone/Firestone WMA expressed concerns over the harvesting of hardwoods fearing that their removal will destroy the wildlife habitat value and aesthetics of the area. What many may have overlooked, however, are the benefits that the creation of an oak/pine savanna would bring to the table as far as its benefit to game and non-game wildlife species and ultimately the recreational opportunities provided to hunters and wildlife watchers.
Similarly, in North Carolina, many WMAs (known as Game Lands) are on the N.C. Birding Trail because the diversity of habitats, especially early successional habitats, created through active management are important to birds and therefore birders.
Also lost in translation is the distinction between the colloquial use of “wilderness” versus a federal wilderness area, which may only be established through an act of Congress.
While there were many people that attended the October meeting that opposed the habitat project, there was also a strong contingency of sportsmen and women that showed up to voice support for the TWRA’s proposed habitat restoration project. Hunters that support the project are not limited to bird hunters as the habitat work would benefit deer and turkey populations as well.
The TWRA aims to use the best active forest management practices available to benefit wildlife and forest resources. Their mission is to “conserve, manage, protect, and enhance the fish and wildlife of the state and their habitats,” which includes the northern bobwhite quail and the early successional habitats on which quail depend.
CSF supports science-based wildlife management practices, including the proposed wildlife habitat improvement plan on the Bridgestone/Firestone WMA.
Michigan House Introduces Wave of Sportsmen Legislation
Contact: Nick Buggia, Upper Midwestern States Manager
- Michigan House Bills 5358, 5359 & 5360 establish a guiding registration system. Guides would pay a minimum fee and be required to have a valid base or fishing license, CPR and first aid training certificate, a state identification, and must not have been convicted of any felony or certain fish and game violations in the past three years.
- Michigan House Bills 5187 & 5188 would amend the “Emergency Management Act” and “Public Health Code” to disallow future emergency orders that would “prohibit, suspend, or limit” the firearm industry and Second Amendment rights of Michigan residents.
- Michigan House Bill 5393 is a bipartisan bill that modernizes the state’s gaming laws by allowing charities to host online raffles.
Why it Matters: Several recently introduced pieces of legislation could have positive effects on Michigan’s sporting communities. HB 5358-5360 would ensure that guides hired in the Great Lakes State are licensed, responsible, and trained to handle an emergency. HB 5187 & 5188 would protect the firearms industry and citizens’ 2nd Amendment rights during times of emergency like we saw in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The last bill, HB 5393, would modernize Michigan’s gaming laws to reflect new technology, allowing non-profit conservation organizations to fundraise online. Many of these organizations were not able to raise funds during the pandemic, which threatened their ability to operate in support of the state’s public trust fish and wildlife resources.
Several important pieces of legislation have recently been introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives. Two of the bill packages will be heard before committee on Oct. 28, while the third bill has not yet been scheduled for a committee hearing. Summaries for each of these bill packages are included below.
Michigan House Bills 5358, 5359 & 5360: This bill package seeks to create a registration program for guides and establish a set of minimum standards that guides must meet in order to take someone hunting or fishing for a fee. Guides would be required to pay a $150.00 fee (to the DNR) and possess a valid base hunting or fishing license, CPR and first aid training certificate, and a valid state identification. Additionally, all guides must not have been convicted of any felony or certain fish and game violations in the past three years. Finally, these bills would not allow guides to operate on commercial forest land and would require a harvest report to be filed each year with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Michigan House Bills 5187 & 5188: In response to many of the emergency orders we saw across the country as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, this bill package would amend the “Emergency Management Act” and “Public Health Code” to disallow future emergency orders to “prohibit, suspend, or limit” the firearm industry and Second Amendment rights of Michigan residents. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) and partners have supported similar bills as a step to safeguard our 2nd Amendment rights during emergencies.
Michigan House Bill 5393: This bipartisan bill modernizes the state’s gaming laws by allowing charities to host online raffles. Many charities across the nation were hit hard in the wake of COVID-19. This is especially true for many conservation organizations that rely on in-person banquets to fundraise. Recognizing this, HB 5393 will allow hunting and fishing conservation non-profit organizations to host fundraisers online and help to make up the budget shortfalls they face when they are not able to host in-person fundraisers.
CSF plans to support the above legislation and will work to keep you updated on their progress as they move through the legislative process.
You may also like
The role corn plays for gamebirds and economies ac...
Sportsmen’s conservation policy issues from publ...
Sportsmen’s conservation policy issues from publ...