Recovering America’s Wildlife Act Passes Committee House
In early December, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R. 3742) passed the House Natural Resources Committee on a strong bipartisan vote. H.R. 3742 annually directs $1.3 billion in financial resources to state agencies to implement their State Wildlife Action Plans. These Congressionally mandated action plans serve as a blueprint for identifying the unique conservation needs of each state and territory, and have collectively identified nearly 12,000 species in the greatest need of conservation efforts. This bill also provides an additional $97.5 million to tribal nations to conserve the 525 threatened and endangered species that live on tribal lands and waters. As of early January, H.R. 3742 had the support of 163 bipartisan cosponsors. If signed into law, H.R. 3742 would be one of the single greatest contributions to fish and wildlife conservation in our nation’s history.
Congress Approves Funding Bill with Important Conservation Programs Included
On December 20, a bipartisan funding package was signed into law, which included an increase in funding levels to many important conservation programs including the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund, increase in funding for the National Wildlife Refuge System, money to combat Asian carp, exempting lead fishing tackle from the Toxic Substances Control Act, and an increase in funding for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act.
As part of this funding package, Congress included a long-standing CSF priority known as the Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act, which also became law on December 20. This provision will help attract the next generation of hunters and recreational shooters by providing state wildlife agencies much needed flexibility to modernize the way they recruit, retain and reactivate hunters, recreational shooters, and archery enthusiasts. By attracting new or lapsed sportsmen and women, this program will help ensure a prosperous future of the Pittman-Robertson Fund, which is one the most successful and beneficial conservation programs in the nation.
Senate Passes Robust Package to Advance Conservation
On January 9, the Senate passed America’s Conservation Enhancement Act (S. 3051), or ACE Act, out of the chamber on a strong bipartisan voice vote as an amendment to H.R. 925, the North American Wetlands Conservation Extension Act, which passed the House in November. This package includes many provisions that will conserve fish and wildlife habitat, help combat wildlife disease, and increase public access for hunting, fishing, and other outdoor-dependent recreation. Specific programs in the bill include, but are not limited to: Establishment of an innovative CWD task force, funding for the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund at $60 million annually through FY25, exempting lead fishing tackle from the Toxic Substances Control Act, and the National Fish Habitat Conservation through Partnerships.
Florida: Hunter Harassment and Hunting and Fishing Supplies Sales Tax Holiday Legislation Pre-filed
On November 25, 2019, Florida Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Member Representative Tommy Gregory pre-filed legislation that would increase harassment protections for sportsmen and women and create a sales tax holiday for hunting and fishing supplies. Specifically, House Bill 777 would augment the statute prohibiting harassment of hunters, anglers and trappers by extending protections to prohibit harassment on public lands and public waters.
The legislation would also establish an outdoor sporting goods tax holiday on September 5, 2020 for firearms, ammunition and fishing supplies. Florida Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Member Senator Debbie Mayfield filed companion legislation (Senate Bill 1310) on December 20. A sales tax holiday on hunting and fishing supplies could encourage additional participation while also benefiting conservation programs through increased sales of firearms, ammunition, fishing tackle and other goods that are subject to federal excise taxes. In 2018 alone, through the “user-pays, public-benefits” structure known as the American System of Conservation Funding, Florida’s sportsmen and women contributed $70.48 million to conservation funding generated through excise taxes on sporting-related goods and the sale of hunting and fishing licenses.
Idaho: Fish and Game Department Secures Public Access on Corporate Timberlands in Northern Idaho
On October 23, 2019, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game released a statement announcing finalized agreements with twelve private timberland companies, securing public access to 336,630 acres for hunting, angling, trapping, hiking, wildlife viewing, and recreational travel in northern Idaho. This most recent agreement is in addition to an agreement with PotlatchDeltic, which provided public access to 567,002 acres of timberland. Combined, these public-private partnerships have resulted in 903,632 acres of private timberland opened to public access within the last year in the state. Idaho Fish and Game secured the public access agreements through the “large tracts” land lease program, which targets multi-year access to parcels of 50,000 acres or larger and pays $1 per acre annually for access. Funding for the “large tracts” land lease program “comes from Fish and Game’s access/depredation fee that requires a $5 surcharge for residents and a $10 surcharge for nonresidents when they buy their first annual license of the year.” Under the “large tracts” land lease program, cooperating “lands would be open to non-motorized public access for legal hunting, fishing, and trapping activities permitted by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.” Additionally, participating landowners agreed to work cooperatively with each other and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game experts to designate lands that would be available for responsible motorized access and the conditions for that access.
New York: State Increases Punishment for Fish and Wildlife Violators
On November 20, 2019, pro-sportsmen legislation introduced by New York Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Member Senator Patrick Gallivan – which increases penalties for those who violate hunting, fishing, and trapping laws – was signed into law by the Governor. The law-abiding sportsmen’s community honors a strong tradition of ethics and respect for our fish and wildlife resources. However, there are some individuals who disregard these laws and Senate Bill 6557 (S.6557) has raised the stakes for parties who choose to take such actions. Under the provisions outlined in S.6557, poachers who continue to hunt, fish, or trap after having their license revoked or suspended will now face misdemeanor charges, as well as a $1,000 fine and/or a maximum of 90 days in prison. By amending New York’s environmental conservation law to levee stronger punishments for these individuals, the state plans to thwart potential wrongdoers from proceeding with this illegal activity, while also protecting the interests of New York’s fish, wildlife, and sporting community.
Pennsylvania: Historic Sunday Hunting Bill Signed into Law
On Wednesday, November 27, 2019, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, the Democratic Co-Chair of the Governor’s Sportsmen’s Caucus, signed into law S. 147, marking the most significant progress ever realized in the effort to overturn the state’s more than three-centuries old prohibition on Sunday hunting for game species. S. 147 authorizes one day of deer hunting on Sundays during the archery season, one day of deer hunting during the firearm season, and one day to be left to the discretion of the Pennsylvania Game Commission for species and seasons yet to be determined. Prior to the bill being signed into law, only foxes, crows, and coyotes were able to be hunted on Sundays. In addition to the Sunday hunting allowances, the final bill text also strengthens trespassing penalties, and requires written permission from landowners for sportsmen and women hunting on private land.
Texas: Voters Approve Constitutional Amendment to Fully Dedicate Sporting Goods Sales Tax to State Parks and Historic Sites
On Tuesday, November 5, Texas voters took to the ballot box and approved the constitutional amendment known as Proposition 5, which fully dedicates the sales tax revenue for certain sporting goods items to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Parks Division (TPWD) and the Texas Historical Commission (THC). The full dedication of these funds will significantly improve the Park Division’s ability to complete long-term planning and address the changing and growing needs of Texas’ state parks and historic sites, as well as improve hunting and fishing opportunities for Texas’ sportsmen and women. Currently, sporting goods sales tax revenue must be allocated to TWPD by the legislature, a process that also grants the legislature power to allocate this revenue for other uses. In fact, the amount allocated to TPWD has often been well below the maximum threshold of available funds generated by the sporting goods sales tax. Recognizing that the allocation of these funds was inconsistent with the original intent of the sporting goods sales tax, Texas’ 86th Legislature unanimously passed SB 26, thereby introducing Proposition 5. Passing with 88% support among Texas voters, Proposition 5 will fully take effect on September 1, 2021 and ensure that revenue from the sporting goods sales tax is automatically allocated to TPWD and THC without need for the appropriations process.
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