CSF Supports FWS, NOAA Rule to Enhance Forest, Wildlife Health
On February 11, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) submitted comments in support of the rule proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service that would clarify their consultation requirements under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
Specifically, the proposed rule would clarify that consultation does not need to be reinitiated for previously approved land management plans when new information reveals that effects of a plan may, in a manner or extent not previously considered, affect a listed species or critical habitat. The proposed rule would remove ambiguity caused by the Cottonwood Environmental Law Center v. United States Forest Service decision that has been used as the basis for litigation to delay forest management projects across the country.
CSF’s letter stated, “The revisions would remove ambiguity stemming from Cottonwood for Section 7 ESA consultation at the programmatic level, and we believe the changes are needed to allow the USFS and BLM to implement forest health and wildlife habitat projects without hinderance from litigation or threats of litigation over duplicative consultations.”
CSF supports using active forest management tools to improve wildlife habitat, increase forest resiliency, and improve access and opportunity for sportsmen and women. CSF looks forward to the rule being finalized to improve federal land management.
Nebraska: Let the Commission Do Its Job!
As readers may have noticed, Nebraska has recently been a battleground for legislation seeking to undermine the ability of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) to do its job. For the Cornhusker State’s 422,074 paid hunting and fishing license holders, these bills pose a threat not only to the state agency, but to the fish and wildlife resources that the agency manages on their behalf. Most recently, new attacks on NGPC in the form of Legislative Bills 222 (LB 222) and 468 (LB 468) were heard in the Legislature’s Revenue and Natural Resources Committees, respectively.
LB 222 sought to amend the payments in lieu of taxes that NGPC pays annually. These payments, designed to offset foregone personal property tax revenue on lands owned by the state agency, do provide important revenue to the state and local governments that rely on property tax revenue. However, LB 222 sought to unreasonably increase these payments, unnecessarily diverting critical resources away from resource management efforts.
LB 468 would require NGPC to compensate landowners for property damage caused by game animals. Besides the challenges associated with determining which species (game vs. non-game) caused the damage, this bill, like LB 222, would divert critical resources that NGPC has already devoted to other conservation and resource management efforts. Further, it completely overlooks the programs that NGPC already has in place to address issues with property damage caused by game species. One such program seeks to connect hunters with property owners reporting damages, thereby generating new opportunities for hunters while addressing property-specific management goals.
The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation submitted letters of opposition for both LB 222 and LB 468. Rather than seeking ways to undermine the authority and financial resources of the state’s fish and wildlife management agency, which could inadvertently impact our opportunities to hunt and fish, legislators are encouraged to work with their agency – which employs trained professionals best equipped to make wildlife management decisions – to address their resource management concerns.
A Maine Concern – Needing a Permit to Protect your Hearing
In the world of firearm suppressors, Maine is in a unique situation. For hunters to use suppressors in the pursuit of game, they must first obtain a permit from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) – something that is provided by the MDIFW Commissioner on a “may issue” basis. Maine is the only state in the nation to require a permit to use a suppressed firearm for hunting, though a change is in the works.
Maine Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Senator Trey Stewart has put pen to paper to revise this system, introducing legislation – LR 1593 – that would repeal the statute requiring the suppressor permit. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) has been working alongside Senator Stewart and the American Suppressor Association toward the introduction of this bill, as it would remove an additional hurdle that sportsmen and women must undergo in order to protect themselves from irreparable hearing damage while afield.
The process one must go through to purchase a suppressor is anything but easy, as they are federally regulated under the National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934 and fall under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Prospective purchasers must find a licensed dealer, send the appropriate paperwork and a one-time $200 tax per suppressor to the ATF, undergo an extensive FBI background check, and undergo a National Instant Criminal Background Checks System (NICS) check at the point of purchase. Wait times for this process often average seven months or more. However, for sportsmen and women in Maine, there is the added step of applying for a permit from the MDIFW – another delay that serves to tack on even more time. Hence, there is a need for the removal of this barrier so that sportsmen and women may be able to utilize their hearing protective devices while hunting.
CSF looks forward to continuing its efforts alongside Senator Stewart and the American Suppressor Association in the Pine Tree State.
Kentucky Legislation Would Protect the Firearms Industry from Financial Discrimination
On February 24, legislation that would make it unlawful for financial institutions and government entities to discriminate against the firearms industry reported favorably out of the Kentucky House Judiciary Committee.
Prior to the vote, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) submitted a support letter to the committee.
CSF’s letter stated, “Firearms and firearms-related businesses are essential to supporting Kentucky’s hunters and recreational shooters, and we believe the legislation is needed to protect Kentucky’s sporting heritage and the conservation funding and economic benefits that sportsmen and women provide to the Commonwealth.”
The letter also stressed the fact that a significant portion of the revenue generated through the American System of Conservation Funding used for conservation programs in the Bluegrass State is derived from excise taxes on firearms and ammunition.
Similar Firearms Industry Nondiscrimination Act legislation has been enacted in Georgia.
CSF appreciates the strong support the bill has received in the Kentucky General Assembly and will continue working with partners to support the bill’s advancement.
Senate Committee Joins Push for Right to Hunt, Fish, and Trap Constitutional Amendment in Iowa
On February 23, Iowa’s Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Environment introduced Senate Study Bill 1218 (SSB 1218). This bill follows the January introduction of House Joint Resolution 8 (HJR 8) by Iowa Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Member Representative Dean Fisher. Running dual tracks in each chamber, SSB 1218 and HJR 8 propose an amendment to the Iowa Constitution which will affirm the rights of Iowans to hunt, fish, trap, and harvest wildlife.
Amendments affirming the Right to Hunt, Fish, and Harvest Wildlife are an opportunity for the state’s elected officials and voting public to codify the importance of our outdoor traditions to their state’s economy, conservation objectives, and overall heritage. Presently, 23 states include the Right to Hunt and Fish in their constitutions, including Utah, which saw its voters approve the amendment during the November 2020 general election.
As efforts to undermine our ability to participate in hunting, fishing, trapping, and harvesting wildlife become more common, these amendments serve to safeguard our outdoor traditions and affirm the role of hunting, fishing, and trapping as critical tools in the management of many fish and wildlife populations. At the same time, these amendments provide an organic opportunity to discuss the importance of these activities to rural economies and the contributions of sportsmen and women to the conservation of our public trust resources through the American System of Conservation Funding.
SSB 1218 and HJR 8 must pass through the legislature and be signed by Governors Sportsmen’s Caucus Member Governor Kim Reynolds before moving to the ballot for consideration by Iowa’s voting public. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation continues to support the passage of Right to Hunt and Fish constitutional amendments and looks forward to working with legislators, mission partners, and members of Iowa’s strong sportsmen’s community in support of this effort.
Tax Season Means Fighting for New Hampshire’s Shooting Preserves and Sporting Dog Kennels
On March 1, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation’s (CSF) Joe Mullin, Assistant Manager, Northeastern States, testified during a New Hampshire House Municipal and County Government Committee in opposition to House Bill 467 (HB 467). This proposed legislation intended to amend the current use taxation law to exclude “farm land or forest land used to harbor non-native, non-domesticated animal species” from the definition of “open space land” – actions that undermine shooting preserves and dog training operations. Following the hearing, in a vote of 17-2, HB 467 was declared “Inexpedient to Legislate” and thus died
As Mullin stated during the hearing and in a letter of opposition, shooting preserves offer sportsmen and women the ability to pursue game in a controlled environment. In New Hampshire, it is common to take part in a preserve hunt for upland birds, such as pheasants and Hungarian partridge – both of which are non-native species and would have affected a landowner’s ability to receive conservation tax incentives undwe HB 467. For sportsmen and women who are new to hunting, these operations provide the model learning environment. Additionally, each shot taken on shooting ranges and in the pursuit of game – which more often than not results in a significant number of shots taken – reflects a contribution made to the American System of Conservation Funding. Similar to shooting preserves, sporting dog kennels are an ideal location for sportsmen and women to train their dogs under controlled conditions. Field exercises for these dogs include live firing at non-native species; thus, these kennels would have suffered the same fate under HB 467 as shooting preserves.
CSF commends the in-state and national conservation organizations that weighed in to oppose HB 467 during today’s hearing, and looks forward to working alongside them in the Granite State.
North Dakota Trespass Legislation on the Path to being Favorable for Sportsmen
For years, North Dakota’s trespass laws have been a topic of discussion in Bismarck. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) reported earlier this year on a bill that would again address this issue. Since then, North Dakota Senate Bill 2144 (ND S 2144) has been introduced and is making its way through the legislative process, having passed the Senate last week and then reported to the House Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Currently in North Dakota, private land is open to hunting unless otherwise posted. This has been attractive for hunters across the country looking to take advantage of North Dakota’s diverse hunting opportunities. For the most part, they have been welcomed with open arms, but this new legislation has the potential to make it easier for landowners to post their lands and for sportsmen to identify private land as either open or closed to hunting.
The proposed change would not allow anyone to cross a fence to access public land unless that individual possesses a hunting or fishing license and is actively hunting or fishing. In addition, the landowner will also be able to “designate the land as posted or closed to hunting in an online database authorized by the state and available to the public.”
While the proposed change will give landowners an additional option to post their lands electronically, it will also give hunters the ability to easily identify lands that are open to hunting when planning trips to the Peace Garden State.
In previous sessions, proposed legislation would have had a significant impact on hunters by changing the default for private lands from “open unless posted as closed” to “closed unless posted as open.” There have been several versions since then, and CSF has worked with members of the North Dakota Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus, the Governor’s office, and the North Dakota Game & Fish Department to ensure that sportsmen and women’s voices were heard on this issue.
What the Rhode Island General Assembly Should Know – Not all Dog Breeds are the Same
- On March 9, the Rhode Island House Judiciary Committee convened to discuss House Bill 5736 (HB 5736) – legislation that would impose a fine of up to $1,000 for leaving a dog “tethered outside and unattended” for 30 minutes or longer in temperatures common during the New England hunting seasons.
- HB 5736 failed to account for the abilities of different dog breeds to thrive in adverse weather conditions, while also making no attempt to fill definitional voids that would make enforcement challenging.
- The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) submitted a letter of opposition to the House Judiciary Committee, highlighting its concerns with HB 5736.
- Ultimately, the House Judiciary Committee recommended that the measure be held for further study.
Why it Matters: This legislation would subject a $1,000 fine on anyone who leaves a dog tethered outside and unattended in temperatures 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below, or 90 degrees Fahrenheit or above, which blatantly ignores the capabilities of different dog breeds to sustain themselves and perform well afield in extreme weather conditions. A dog’s adaptability to extreme weather may be dampened with limited time spent outdoors. Additionally, HB 5736 completely fails to define the terms “tethered” and “outside and unattended,” which raises a number of questions into the legality of several common hunting and training practices (i.e., hunting with a dog on a check cord, and/or utilizing tie-outs for obedience training).
Whether it’s an issue with substandard kennels or dog tethering, the animal rights groups have a strong affinity for painting all dog breeds with the same brush, and HB 5736 is the latest example. There is no question that sportsmen and women in the New England region often face some of the harshest winter weather, and as they head afield with their four-legged hunting partners, they expect that their previous training will be reflected in their pursuits. In many cases, this also comes down to the dog’s ability to adapt to harsh weather.
HB 5736 would levy a $1,000 fine on anyone who leaves a dog tethered outside and unattended in temperatures at or below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, or at or above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Dogs have varying capabilities to sustain themselves in extreme weather conditions, and sportsmen and women know this first-hand through their days spent pursuing pheasants in snow-capped fields, or while breaking ice during early morning waterfowl hunts. When a dog’s time outside is limited, its adaptability to these conditions is lessened, and the shock value is even greater to its health and body when it is exposed to adverse weather. HB 5736 disregards this consideration by implementing a blanket restriction on a dog exceeding 30 minutes “outside and unattended” in such weather.
This bill also fails to expand on the terms “tethered” and “outside and unattended,” leaving much up for interpretation. Sportsmen and women are religious about following the honorable fish and wildlife laws enforced by the Department of Environmental Management, and HB 5736 offers no insight into what constitutes a dog’s tethering or being left outside and unattended.
For these reasons, CSF’s Joe Mullin, Assistant Manager, Northeastern States, submitted a letter of opposition to the House Judiciary Committee, which ultimately recommended that the measure be held for further study. CSF will continue to remain engaged on the issue, and updates will be provided as they are made available.
Public Land Sunday Hunting One Step Closer to Reality for North Carolina Hunters
- In 2017, the North Carolina General Assembly passed the Outdoor Heritage Enhanced Act which transferred regulatory authority for Sunday hunting with a firearm on public lands of the state managed for hunting from the legislature to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC).
- In 2020, the WRC solicited public input, with the assistance of an independent third-party facilitator, by conducting an online survey, holding meetings across the state, and convening stakeholder group meetings to discuss views on Sunday hunting. The WRC recommended that Sunday hunting be allowed on 55 Game Lands.
- Last month, WRC Commissioners approved proposed rule changes, following a public comment period, that would open Sunday hunting on 51 Game Lands.
Why it Matters: North Carolina is one of few states that prohibits public land Sunday hunting. Sunday hunting on private lands was legalized in 2015, and hunters have been eager to hunt on public lands on Sundays since the law changed in 2017. The rules changes will open 1.6 million acres across the state to Sunday hunting.
Sunday hunting will be allowed on 51 Game Lands, including all four National Forests, starting this fall. Having another day to hunt, especially on a weekend, will be significant for North Carolina’s sportsmen and women that do not have access to private land. In a rapidly developing state, increasing access goes a long way to support hunter recruitment, retention and reactivation.
Hunters are also the only user group excluded from Game Lands on Sundays despite contributing to the purchase and management costs of Game Lands through the “user-pays, public-benefits” American System of Conservation Funding.
The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) and the North Carolina Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus have been involved with the effort to expand Sunday hunting opportunities in North Carolina since before the passage of the Outdoor Heritage Act in 2015. Most recently in January, CSF submitted a letter and provided comments during the WRC public meeting supporting the rule proposals to open Sunday hunting on Game Lands.
While the WRC Commissioners approved the proposed rules, implementation could be delayed through the objection process in which case the rules would be subject to legislative review during the 2022 legislative session. CSF supports the WRC moving forward with the August 1, 2021 effective date for the rule changes.
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