CSF Weighs in on Hoosier State Legislation Impacting Access, Conservation
On January 29, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) submitted a letter in opposition for Senate Bill 266 (SB 266) and joined a letter of opposition for Senate Bill 373 (SB 373) in Indiana. If passed, both bills would have negative effects on sportsmen and women in the state.
SB 266, as written, would impose a $30 out-of-state user fee on every boat entering Indiana waters. If passed, Indiana would be the only state in the country to require temporary users to pay such a fee. The bill would also preclude boaters from participating in recreational activities while anchored, such as fishing, hunting, or swimming within 200-feet off shore. Doing so would eliminate the ability to fish in a large portion of the most productive lakes and largely prohibit duck hunting on state waters, as this activity typically occurs from or near the shoreline. Given the role that hunting, angling and boating play in support of conservation funding, it is important that we look for ways to enhance access for outdoor recreation rather than limit those opportunities through unnecessary and uninformed legislation.
SB 373 would create a carbon market in the Hoosier State with little or no consideration for the role that active forest management practices play in the sequestration of carbon. While CSF does not oppose the use of forests for carbon farming, the letter requested the legislation be deferred until a feasibility study can be conducted to determine the impact of the proposed carbon credit program on the economy, wildlife habitat, and existing forest management plans. A carbon credit program should be designed to meet carbon sequestration goals while simultaneously benefiting wildlife habitat, biodiversity, water quality, and market needs. CSF encourages the legislature to work with willing partners to identify the most appropriate approach to address issues related to climate change while carefully considering the perspectives of Indiana’s landowners and businesses who would be most directly impacted by a carbon credit program.
New York Caucus Co-Chairs Advocate for Lowering the Hunting Age and Expanding Crossbow Use
Establishing a universal hunting age of 12 and expanding crossbow use have been long-standing priorities for the New York Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus (Caucus). For more than six years, both issues have enjoyed bipartisan support as stand-alone bills and have been championed by both Caucus leaders and members. However, those bills have failed to cross the finish line, in part due to resistance in various Committees. This year Governor Cuomo saw fit to include both items in his Executive Budget Proposal. In a letter sent on February 2, Caucus Co-Chairs have called upon Senate and Assembly leadership to retain these items in the final budget agreement to the governor.
To hunt big game with a firearm, New York hunters have to wait until they are at least 14 years old – the highest starting age for deer hunting in the nation – which significantly hinders Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation (R3) efforts. As stated in the letter, “Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, youth hunting license sales were declining greater than 10% annually. However, in 2020 we saw a dramatic increase in all outdoor pursuits, hunting included, and as a part of that trend more than 16,000 prospective youth hunters took and successfully completed the hunter education course – a necessary first step before being eligible to purchase a hunting license. Given this strong interest shown by prospective youth hunters we feel it is critically important that we explore ways to provide additional opportunities for this age class.”
In a joint press release, Co-Chairs Assm. Aileen Gunther, Assm. Colin Schmitt, and Sen. Joseph Griffo stated “The New York Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus has a long bipartisan tradition of working to protect and advance the interests of New York’s sportsmen and women. We are pleased to see that two of our major priorities are included in the executive budget and strongly support establishing a universal hunting age of 12 and expanding the use of crossbows in archery season. We seek to ensure that these two proposals are included in the final adopted budget.”
CSF commends the Co-Chairs for their leadership on this issue and will continue its strong track record of engagement on these and other sportsmen’s issues in the Empire State.
Nebraskans Should Beware of Proposals to Politicize Wildlife Agency
Last week, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) submitted letters to the Nebraska Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee in opposition of two bills that would change how members of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (Commission) and the Commission’s secretary are appointed.
Under the current Commission structure, each member is appointed by the governor and approved by the legislature. Legislative Bill 615 (LB 615) would amend that structure to require each member of the Commission to be elected by public vote during primary and general elections. While this proposed structure would allow the public to have a larger say in the structure of the commission, this change would also inject partisan, electoral politics into the day-to-day oversight and operation of the Cornhusker State’s fish and wildlife agency. Though similar, Legislative Bill 305 (LB 305) focused specifically on the secretary of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission by requiring the secretary to be appointed by the governor with consent of the legislature. The secretary, who acts as the director and chief conservation officer for the state’s fish and wildlife management agency, is currently appointed by members of the Commission.
While the provisions of both bills may seem insignificant, it is important to remember the role state fish and wildlife agencies and game commissions play in the conservation of our public trust resources and our ability to participate in our cherished outdoor pursuits. To accomplish their duties, it is critical that game commission members understand the significant contributions of hunters and anglers to the conservation of our nation’s fish and wildlife resources and use this understanding to ensure that their agencies are staffed and led by experts in the field of wildlife management. While democracy has an important role in conservation, this is best realized through the public comment processes that are currently afforded to citizens throughout the regulatory process.
LBs 305 and 615 now await further consideration by the Nebraska Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee.
Hunting, Fishing Groups Speak Up to Give Oklahoma Commission License Authority
On Monday, February 8, the Oklahoma Senate Agriculture and Wildlife Committee held its first committee meeting of the 2021 legislative session. Among the several bills discussed during this meeting was Senate Bill 774 (SB 774), a bill that would grant authority over Oklahoma’s hunting and fishing licenses, permits, and stamps to the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission (Commission).
Currently, authority over Oklahoma’s hunting and fishing licenses is vested in the state legislature, meaning that any changes, such as new licenses, consolidating existing licenses, or necessary fee adjustments, must go through the entire legislative process. Though Oklahoma is fortunate to have many legislators who support the state’s strong hunting heritage, this framework presents potential issues. For example, this current system grants all legislators – even those who do not support the rights of sportsmen to hunt and fish – the power to cast a vote on any changes regarding Oklahoma’s hunting and fishing licenses.
By transferring authority to the Commission and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC), SB 774 would allow those who are most qualified to make wildlife management decisions to overhaul Oklahoma’s licensing system, which currently consists of over 150 separate licenses, for the benefit of both Oklahoma’s sportsmen and wildlife. Further, SB 774 would allow the Commission to adjust license fees as necessary to ensure that hunting and angling are reasonably accessible while maintaining consistent funding for ODWC, an agency that is solely funded through the American System of Conservation Funding.
The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) and several mission partner organizations submitted a joint letter of support to Senate Agriculture and Wildlife Committee Chairman, and SB 774’s author, Senator Casey Murdock, to be shared with his fellow committee members. During the committee’s meeting, SB 774 was passed by the committee, though the title was stricken from the bill. By striking the title, Senator Murdock has allowed the bill to continue through the legislative process, though the title will need to be restored before it can officially be passed by the legislature.
Support for Prescribed Burning Act Heats Up During Committee Hearings in Missouri
Last week, both the House and Senate versions of Missouri’s “Prescribed Burning Act” (HB 369 and SB 301) were before the House Rural Community Development and Senate Agriculture, Food Products, and Outdoor Resources Committees, respectively. Ahead of the Senate Committee’s hearing, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) submitted a formal testimony letter in support of this effort.
These bills seek to define liability standards for landowners who wish to use prescribed fire as a management practice to improve wildlife habitat quality, promote oak establishment, or reduce fuel accumulation – which could contribute to dangerous wildfires – on their property. Currently, Missouri is one of five states in which liability standards are not currently defined, leading to concerns that have caused many landowners to pass on using prescribed fire. By defining liability standards for prescribed burning at simple negligence and working with the Missouri Department of Conservation to establish a prescribed burn manager certification curriculum, HB 369 and SB 301 will eliminate this barrier.
As mentioned during the Midwest’s pre-session preview, the Prescribed Burn Act has been a top priority for many of Missouri’s sportsmen’s and conservation organizations who appreciate the important benefits that prescribed burning can provide for the Show-Me State’s fire-adapted ecosystems. During these hearings, several mission partner organizations testified before each committee to voice their support. Each bill now awaits formal approval by each committee before moving to their respective chambers for further consideration.
New Hampshire Caucus Co-Chair and CSF Work to Protect Sporting Dogs and their Hunter Companions
On February 10, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation’s (CSF) Assistant Manager, Northeastern States, Joseph Mullin, testified during a New Hampshire House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee hearing in support of House Bill 338 (HB 338) – legislation that provides increased protections for the Granite State’s sporting dogs, and the sportsmen and women who accompany them afield.
Co-sponsored by Representative Jeff Goley, New Hampshire Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair and National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses Executive Council Vice President, HB 338 would make it a class B felony for the theft of a dog and a misdemeanor for the willful or malicious removal, tampering, damaging, or destruction of another individual’s dog’s collar (including tracking and electronic collars).
This legislation provides a clear recognition of the special roles that dogs play in the hunting community, including tracking game, pointing and flushing upland birds, and retrieving downed waterfowl. During the hearing, as well as in a letter of support submitted to the Committee, Mullin testified to the point that hunting dogs serve as an extension of, and work in tandem with, sportsmen and women. Electronic and tracking collars are an instrumental tool in the field, allowing hunters to keep a watchful eye over their dogs and reinforce signal recognition while pursuing game. The theft of a dog and/or removal of its collar obstructs a hunter’s ability to take part in and enjoy pursuits afield and should already be considered a violation of New Hampshire’s hunter harassment law. This legislation is a nod to the significant impact that dogs have on our nation’s sporting traditions, while also providing increased liabilities that will serve to prevent incidents of hunter harassment.
Mississippi Caucus Conservation Funding Bill Passes House
On February 10, legislation that would create the Mississippi Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund (Fund) and dedicate sales tax on outdoor gear for conservation purposes passed the Mississippi House of Representatives (House) by a vote of 117-2.
National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses Executive Council Member and Mississippi Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus (Caucus) Co-Chair Representative Scott Bounds is the lead sponsor of House Bill 1231. Caucus Members Representative Trey Lamar, Representative Bill Kincade, Representative Tom Miles, and Representative Shane Barnett are co-sponsors.
“I’m incredibly excited to see this legislation pass the House with such strong bipartisan support. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to support this bill that would benefit the conservation of Mississippi’s natural resources for generations to come,” said Representative Bounds.
The Caucus, along with the support of many conservation partners in the state, is steadfast in their support for this legislation that could provide up to $20 million in additional funding for the conservation of Mississippi’s natural resources.
Prior to the vote, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) submitted a letter to the members of the House in support of the legislation.
CSF’s letter stated, “Establishment of the Mississippi Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund would enable Mississippi to increase the scale of conservation work on private and public lands across the state without creating a new sales tax or increasing the current sales tax rate. The legislation does not increase hunting and fishing license fees, and no amendment to the constitution would be required. By allocating a percentage of the existing sales tax on sporting goods to conservation purposes, Mississippians would benefit from projects that improve wildlife habitat; promote hunting, fishing, recreational shooting and other forms of outdoor recreation; enhance access to public lands; restore wetlands and other riparian areas important for clean water; and support fish and wildlife conservation on working forests and farms.”
HB 1231 awaits action in the Senate Committee on Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, and CSF will continue working with the Caucus and in-state partners to support efforts to pass the legislation.
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