Policy Corner Brief: FEBRUARY 2022
Department of Interior Announces Disbursement of More Than $1.5 Billion in Sportsmen-Generated Conservation Funding
Posted on Monday, February 14, 2022
- Last week, the Department of the Interior announced the distribution of approximately $1.5 billion in funding that is generated on the backs of sportsmen and women through excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment such as firearms, ammunition, fishing tackle, and boating fuel.
- These funds often account for 80% or more of state fish and wildlife agency revenue and are critically important to ensuring the completion of on-the-ground conservation, research, and access projects.
Why it matters: The funds that are being distributed by the Department of the Interior are generated entirely by sportsmen and women through the purchases of firearms, ammunition, fishing tackle, and motorboat fuel. For over 80 years, sportsmen and women have played an integral and unique role in providing the vast majority of conservation funding in the United States through a “user pays — public benefits” structure in which those who consumptively use the resource pay for the privilege, and in some cases the right, to do so.
On February 11, the Department of the Interior announced the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be distributing a record $1.5 billion in funding generated entirely by hunters, recreational shooters, anglers, and boaters through the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program (WSFR).
For more than 80 years, sportsmen and women have played an integral and unique role in leading the nation in conservation through the “user pays – public benefits” American System of Conservation Funding (ASCF). This system is unparalleled by any other conservation funding program in the world, including the United States. The funding that is being distributed by the Department of the Interior, which is generated solely by sportsmen and women, is the lifeblood of state fish and wildlife agencies, who use this funding for on-the-ground conservation, research, and access projects that directly benefits the things that sportsmen and women care about. Combined with the revenue generated from sporting license purchases, the WSFR funds has positioned the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation to become recognized as the most successful conservation framework in history.
The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) applauds the Department of the Interior for quickly distributing these funds. CSF looks forward to working with the Department to increase access opportunities for sportsmen and women to expand their hunting, shooting, and fishing access opportunities to generate even more funding for the WSFR program in the future.
Senate Confirms CSF-Supported USDA Nominee Dr. Homer Wilkes
Posted on Monday, February 14, 2022
- Last week, the Senate voted to confirm the nomination of Dr. Homer Wilkes to serve as the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment under a voice vote.
- Dr. Wilkes will now officially oversee the daily operations of the United States Forest Service which is charged with the management of millions of acres of public lands across the country.
- Last July, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) and partners voiced their support for Dr. Wilkes through a letter that was sent to Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee to demonstrate the strong support from the hunting and fishing community.
Why it matters: The Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment leads USDA’s Forest Service, an agency charged with the management of millions of acres of public lands across the United States. In addition to the Forest Service’s crucial role in providing a sustainable source of forest products, our National Forests and Grasslands provide an abundance of benefits, including quality opportunities for sportsmen and women who access these lands to participate in their outdoor pursuits.
On February 8, the Senate voted to confirm Dr. Homer Wilkes to serve as the next Under Secretary for the Natural Resources and the Environment at the Department of Agriculture under a voice vote, a sign of the wide-spread bipartisan support for Dr. Wilkes. With this confirmation, Dr. Wilkes brings a tremendous level of experience to his new position, including 41 years of experience within the USDA. Dr. Wilkes most recently served as the Director of the Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem Restoration, a position he held from 2013 until this appointment.
As reported previously, CSF maintained support for Dr. Wilkes throughout the confirmation process. Last July, CSF and 26 of the nation’s leading sporting-conservation organizations sent a letter to the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee to support the nomination of Dr. Wilkes prior to his confirmation hearing. This letter highlighted the expertise that Dr. Wilkes brings to the position, particularly as the Administration seeks to address conservation and climate challenges. Under his leadership in Mississippi, the state’s forests were the top in the nation in terms of removing carbon from the atmosphere while also ranking in the top one or two consistently in timber harvest.
As CSF and others within the sporting-conservation community continue to advocate for the use of active forest and habitat management to address climate and wildlife conservation challenges, the opportunity to work with officials such as Dr. Wilkes within the Administration is a welcome accomplishment. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation looks forward to working with him in his new role as Under Secretary to promote healthy ecosystems and abundant opportunities for our nation’s sportsmen and women.
Oklahoma Bills Renew Push for State Agency License Authority
Posted on Monday, February 14, 2022
Contact: Kent Keene; Senior Coordinator, Lower Midwestern States and Agriculture Policy
- On the first day of the 2022 legislative session, Senate Bill 1709 and House Bill 4068 were introduced in the Oklahoma Legislature.
- These bills would transfer authority over Oklahoma’s hunting and fishing licenses and fees from the Oklahoma Legislature to the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission, a major priority for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC), the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF), and several mission partners.
- Authority over the state’s hunting and fishing licenses would allow ODWC to create a system that is tailored to meet the needs of the state’s hunters, anglers, and trappers while generating critical conservation funding through the ASCF.
Why it Matters: Granting license and fee authority to the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission would allow the agency charged with managing Oklahoma’s fish and wildlife resources the ability to simplify the current complicated system of licenses and permits to best suit the needs of the Sooner State’s sportsmen and women who, in turn, generate the bulk of the funding for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. With more than 150 license combinations currently available, SB 1709 and HB 4086 serve as an opportunity to make hunting and angling more accessible for Oklahoma’s sportsmen and women.
On the first day of the 2022 legislative session, Senator Roger Thompson and Oklahoma Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Representative Kevin Wallace introduced Senate Bill 1709 (SB 1709) and House Bill 4086 (HB 4086), respectively. These bills seek to address a top priority for the Sooner State’s sporting-conservation community by vesting the authority over Oklahoma’s hunting and angling licenses in the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission. CSF and partners have worked closely with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) to support this effort each of the last two sessions.
With over 150 different licenses, permits, and stamps to choose from, trying to hunt or fish in Oklahoma can be more of a challenge than it needs to be, particularly to those who are new and not familiar with these activities. By removing license authority from the legislature and vesting it in the Commission, the state would be better able to quickly address these challenges through the regulatory process. For an agency like ODWC that is almost entirely reliant on the support of the sporting-conservation community through the American System of Conservation Funding, the ability to overhaul and simplify the state’s license structure is critical.
Though support among the sporting-conservation community remains strong, there are some who have expressed concerns with giving the Commission the authority to establish hunting and angling licenses and fees. However, it is important to remember that the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission, informed by the professionally trained staff at ODWC, is arguably the entity best equipped to make these administrative decisions. As such, granting them this authority is a logical step. Furthermore, it is important to point out that, like any other regulatory proposal put forth by the Commission, license and fee changes would be subject to a public comment period and final approval by the Oklahoma Legislature.
CSF continues to work closely with ODWC, in-state and national sporting-conservation partners, and members of the Oklahoma Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus to support SB 1709 and HB 4086. Stay tuned for more updates from the Sooner State as these bills make their way through the legislative process.
CSF Calls on State Officials to Support Wolf Hunting and Trapping
Posted on Monday, February 07, 2022
Contact: Nick Buggia, Upper Midwestern States Manager
- Gray Wolves were delisted as an endangered species in 2021 after meeting and exceeding recovery goals established under the Endangered Species Act.
- The Great Lakes States have exceeded target gray wolf population goals for the past 25 years.
- Hunting and trapping are management tools that generate the vast majority of conservation funding through the American System of Conservation Funding.
Why it Matters: The Endangered Species Act was created to help species who are both at risk of extinction and whose future is uncertain in the United States. Species on the list are provided with protections and funding for conservation efforts to ensure their recovery. Since its inception, 54 species have been delisted due to recovery, while another 56 species have been downlisted from endangered to threatened. In recent years, attempts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to delist species like grizzly bears and gray wolves have been met with litigation by environmental groups, and many USFWS decisions have been reversed, despite these species reaching preestablished recovery goals. If the best available research suggests that a species has met its population goal, it should be delisted and management authority over the species should be returned to state fish and wildlife agencies, who have a long history of successfully managing fish and wildlife populations. There are many species on the list that need our attention, and we should not be wasting our time, effort, and money on species that, according to the best available science, have recovered.
On January 27, The Michigan House Natural Recourses Committee passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 7 (SCR 7) – a resolution asking the Michigan Natural Resources Commission (NRC) to institute a wolf hunting and trapping season as part of their wolf management plan. The resolution also calls for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to implement a wolf hunting and trapping season in 2022. CSF’s Upper Midwestern States Manager Nick Buggia testified before the committee on the importance sound scientific-based wolf management to ensure that the Great Lake State’s wolf population remains healthy and sustainable.
In support of SCR 7, CSF pointed to The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation (Model) which charges state fish and wildlife agencies with the management of fish and wildlife populations as public trust resources for the benefit of all citizens. This Model serves as the foundations for arguably the most successful wildlife management system in the world and has contributed to successful restoration of numerous species once in danger of extinction. Among the tenants of this Model is the Public Trust Doctrine which states that our wildlife belongs to all Americans, and wildlife populations must be managed to ensure they will be sustained into perpetuity.
State fish and wildlife agencies must be able to use all available management techniques, including consumptive harvest through legal, regulated hunting and trapping opportunities. These tools, when combined with the American System of Conservation Funding, a “user-pays, public-benefits” structure that provides the bulk of state-based fish and wildlife conservation funding in the U.S., allow sportsmen and women to harvest an appropriate number of animals to ensure overall population health. Conservation efforts are further supported through the purchase of licenses and the excise tax from the sale of hunting and fishing equipment.
CSF continues to support state fish and wildlife agencies, including the NRC, as the entities best equipped to manage fish and wildlife populations. Hunting and trapping can help maintain the wolf population below its maximum carrying capacity to ensure that the population remains healthy while reducing the risk of wolf-human conflict and ensuring the health of other wildlife populations.
CSF and Partners Urge Senate Agriculture Committee to Move Important Chronic Wasting Disease Legislation
Posted on Monday, January 31, 2022
- Recently, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) and nearly 30 of the nation’s leading sporting-conservation organizations sent a letter to the leadership of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee to express support for H.R. 5608, the Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act.
- Specifically, CSF and partners called on the Committee to move the Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act, which passed the House on an impressive bipartisan vote of 393-33 on December 8.
Why it matters: Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is one of the most challenging issues facing wildlife managers today. CWD is a progressive, always fatal, degenerative, neurological disease occurring in both farmed and free-ranging deer, elk, and moose (cervids) populations. Furthermore, given the lack of information surrounding CWD, preventing the spread of CWD is a difficult task for our nation’s fish and wildlife managers. H.R. 5608 not only seeks to reduce CWD information gaps, but also seeks to provide our federal, state, and tribal wildlife managers with much needed financial resources to be better manage CWD.
On January 21, CSF and 29 of the nation’s leading sporting-conservation organizations sent a letter to the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee to request that the Committee take up and pass H.R. 5608, the Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act.
Introduced in October by Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus Members Reps. Ron Kind (WI) and Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (PN), H.R. 5608 marks the first time that all interested CWD stakeholders, including hunting conservation groups, wildlife science professionals, and others, have collectively supported a single legislative effort to combat CWD. Thanks to the leadership of Reps. Kind and Thompson, the House of Representatives passed the bill in early December on a strong bipartisan vote on 393-33, marking a significant step forward in our efforts to address CWD.
To combat this pressing disease, the Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act will authorize $70 million annually from Fiscal Year 2022 to Fiscal Year 2028 to be split evenly between CWD research and management efforts. Of this, $35 million will be dedicated annually for CWD research to develop testing methods, enhance detection efforts, and better understand genetic resistance, among others. The remaining $35 million will be used for the management of CWD by prioritizing funding for state and tribal wildlife agencies that have the highest incidence of CWD, are demonstrating the most significant commitments to combatting CWD, are facing the greatest risk of new CWD cases, and more.
Given the ever-increasing challenges associated with CWD and the wide-spread support for H.R. 5608, it is critical that the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee quickly move to pass the bill. CSF will continue to work with Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus Members on the Committee to urge swift action on the House passed bill.
Why Fix What Isn’t Broken? Missouri Resolution Seeks to Amend Commission Structure.
Posted on Monday, January 31, 2022
Contact: Kent Keene, Senior Coordinator, Lower Midwestern States and Agriculture Policy
- Missouri House Joint Resolution 107 (HJR 107) proposes amending the Missouri Constitution to change the structure and appointment process of the Missouri Conservation Commission.
- HJR 107 would essentially make the Conservation Commission an elected body, rather than one appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate.
- It is critical that state fish and wildlife commissions are comprised of those best suited to make decisions regarding the management of each state’s public trust fish and wildlife resources.
- Currently, those interested in weighing in on decisions related to such management can do so through the state’s public input process that is required for each and every proposed regulatory change.
Why it matters: The Midwest has seen several attempts to overhaul the structure of state fish and wildlife commissions in recent years. In Missouri, one such proposal seeks to change the way that members of such commissions are selected, often attempting to make the commission a political body with members elected by the public, rather than appointed by the Governor. While public engagement is important as it relates to the management of each state’s public trust fish and wildlife resources, it is important that the final decisions are left to those best equipped to make such decisions. As such, we must ensure that merit, rather than politics, is the main criterion used to appoint members of these important Commissions.
On Monday, January 24, the Missouri House Conservation and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing for House Joint Resolution 107 (HJR 107). This resolution proposes a constitutional amendment that would reorganize the Missouri Conservation Commission as an elected body comprised of eight members, rather than the current four-person Commission that is appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. While proponents of this effort claim that an eight-member elected Commission, including one commissioner from each of the state’s regions, would result in better representation for all areas of the state, many members of the sportsmen’s community oppose this effort due to several potentially negative consequences. Should HJR 107 pass through the legislature, it would then go to the ballot for approval by Missouri’s voters.
The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) submitted a formal letter of opposition to HJR 107. In this letter, CSF recognized the importance of public input as it relates to the management of each state’s public trust fish and wildlife resources as well as the ability of sportsmen and women to engage in our time-honored traditions. However, we believe that Missouri currently meets this criteria and provides ample opportunities for public engagement in the form of public comment periods that accompany any and all proposed regulatory changes put forth by the Missouri Conservation Commission. This system satisfies the need for public input while vesting final decision-making authority in the entity best equipped to make such decisions. Additionally, it is important to keep in mind that the selection of Commissioners is made by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Senate, two bodies that are already elected by the public.
Finally, CSF also highlighted one of the most glaring risks associated with the politicization of state fish and wildlife commissions. By forgoing the appointment process and electing commissioners, we open the door to potential intrusion by those who oppose, hunting, trapping, and fishing and could seek to gain election to the Commission in an effort to rescind our rights to hunt, fish, and trap.
There is an old saying that goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” When looking at the history of conservation successes accomplished in Missouri under the leadership of the Missouri Conservation Commission, it is clear that this is a system that isn’t broken.
Efforts Underway to Protect Fire-Minded Landowners in Nebraska
Posted on Monday, January 24, 2022
Contact: Kent Keene, Senior Coordinator, Lower Midwestern States and Agriculture Policy
- On Friday, January 21, members of the Nebraska Legislature’s Judiciary Committee heard testimony related to Legislative Bill 953 (LB 953).
- LB 953 seeks to improve liability standards for private landowners who wish to use prescribed fire as a land and wildlife management tool on their property.
- Similar to efforts in support of Missouri’s Prescribed Burn Act in 2021, CSF submitted a letter of support for LB 953 ahead of the committee’s hearing.
Why it matters: Once again, a state in the Lower Midwest is taking steps to protect landowners interested in using one of the most efficient and cost-effective land and wildlife habitat management practices, prescribed fire. Despite the increasing knowledge of the importance of prescribed fire, particularly in states historically dominated by fire-adapted ecosystems, concerns among private landowners, including fears related to liability, continue to inhibit the widespread adoption of this critical practice. Fortunately, LB 953 seeks to define liability standards in a manner that grants landowners the highest degree of liability protection as they seek to responsibly employ prescribed fire on their properties.
Following closely on the heels of Missouri’s Prescribed Burn Act in 2021, members of the Nebraska Legislature’s Judiciary Committee recently conducted a hearing for Legislative Bill 953 (LB 953), which seeks to define liability standards for private landowners who want to use prescribed fire on their properties. Specifically, LB 953 is pursuing a gross negligence standard, the greatest degree of liability protection, for landowners who are interested in responsibly employing this critical management practice and, have received approval of their burn management plans from their local fire chief.
CSF submitted formal comments in support of the legislation before the Judiciary Committee’s hearing on January 21. CSF’s comments focused on the importance of prescribed fire in promoting healthy habitats for a variety of wildlife, including culturally and economically important game species like ring-necked pheasants, northern bobwhite, wild turkey, white-tailed deer, and a host of other plants and animals. While many ecosystems can benefit from practices such as prescribed fire, its use is particularly important in states like Nebraska, that are dominated by historically fire-adapted grassland communities. Likewise, CSF’s comments pointed to the ability of prescribed fire to reduce fuel levels that, due to decades of fire suppression throughout much of the country, have contributed to the increased occurrence of dangerous and destructive wildfires in many areas of the United States.
Today, liability concerns remain one of the most commonly cited reasons as to why landowners are reluctant to use prescribed fire. Given the inherent risks associated with the use of fire, these concerns are certainly understandable if liability standards are not clearly defined. Fortunately, extensive research and decades of on-the-ground experience allows today’s professionals to predict fire behavior with a great degree of accuracy, largely mitigating many of these risks when prescribed burns are conducted responsibly and setting the stage for these user-friendly liability standards.
CSF continues to support the use of prescribed fire and similar practices that benefit wildlife habitat and overall ecosystem health, and we encourage states to work with stakeholders to identify and remove barriers to the use of these important practices.
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