Policy Corner Brief: October 2019
Sportsmen’s conservation policy issues from public lands access for recreation to forest management to sportsmen’s recruitment and retention – and much more. Bringing you need-to-know information from around the country.
Kentucky – Sportsmen’s Groups Support New National Wildlife Refuge
The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and other conservation organizations submitted a letter on August 30th to Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt supporting the establishment of the Green River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). The NWR would conserve wetlands and floodplain forests to support waterfowl and other migratory birds. The NWR would provide access for fishing and hunting, including quail, woodcock and waterfowl.
Massachusetts – An Act Encouraging the Growth of a Healthy Forest and Wood Products Sector
Senate Bill 483 promotes active forest management by ordering the Director of the Division of Commercial Forestry and Lumbering of the Department of Agricultural Resources to “promote the perpetuation, extension, and innovative growth of the forestry and lumbering sector of the Massachusetts agricultural economy” and to “perform such other duties as may be imposed upon him by the governor or the commissioner of agriculture.” At the same time, this bill orders the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs to acquire more property to assist the Commonwealth with forest products preservation, which permits “public recreational use” on the property.”
Massachusetts – An Act Authorizing the Establishment of Old Growth Forest Reserves
This misguided piece of legislation discourages active forest management by establishing a “buffer area” on “state-owned land immediately adjacent to an old growth forest that is of sufficient size and configuration, as determined by the secretary, for each old growth forest to protect the old growth forest from human activity and alteration.” The bill, House Bill 736/Senate Bill 485, also defines an “old growth forest” and the forests, combines with the buffer areas, will create the “old growth forest reserves.” Once an area is designated as an old growth forest reserve, potential access issues may emerge as the administering agency would have the authority to restrict or prohibit “any activity of fishing and hunting if the agency determines the activity is not suitable for the protection and management of the old growth forest reserve.”
Michigan – Pheasant Stocking Pilot Program to Begin this Fall
In 2018 The Michigan Legislature passed Public Act 618, the legislation appropriated $260,000 from the general fund to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for a pheasant release pilot program. This program will take place over a two-year period starting in 2019. In an effort to increase hunter participation and to help reinvigorate pheasant hunting in Michigan, the DNR will release pheasants at 10 state game areas in the southern part of the lower peninsula. The pheasants will be released in two stages, the first during the October-November hunting period and the second during the December period.
Montana – Updates to Bird Dog Training Statues
House Bill 29, now law, revised bird dog laws in Montana by providing updates to antiquated statutes related to bird dog training. Specifically, it established new requirements for bird dog field trials; required a permit for field trials on public land from the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks; amended definitions related to “field trials”; repealed unrealistic requirements to conduct field trials on public land; and repealed field trial offenses.
Nevada – Statewide Regulations on Charitable Lottery and Gaming Negatively Impact Conservation
Assembly Bill 117 requires the Commission to adopt regulations that apply charitable lottery and gaming regulations statewide, rather than on a county-by-county basis, as it was previously regulated. The legislation, now signed into law, inadvertently has negative impacts on conservations organizations that operate and host charitable lotteries and games within the state (e.g., Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever, Ducks Unlimited, National Wild Turkey Federation, etc.) and directly impacts the organization’s ability to provide conservation delivery services that benefit Nevada’s fish and wildlife, as well as all of it citizens. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation wrote a comment letter opposing the legislation.
Texas – Electronic Proof of Licenses Now Allowed
Texas HB 547 allows hunters and anglers to carry electronic proof of hunting and fishing licenses in Texas. This law, which became effective on September 1, allows hunters or anglers to show either web-based licenses or images on mobile electronic devices (i.e., cell phones). However, the use of an electronic device to display licenses does not give consent for officers to examine the phone beyond verifying license information. Additionally, license holders may still be responsible for submitting a paper license to a judge upon request.
Federal Policy Updates
Recovering America’s Wildlife Act
Over the summer, Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) Co-Chair Rep. Debbie Dingell (MI) and CSC Member Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (NE) reintroduced the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R. 3742). 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 mid-September, H.R. 3742, had the support of 118 bipartisan cosponsors.
Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund
H.R. 877, the Modernizing the Pittman-Robertson Fund for Tomorrow’s Needs Act, was introduced in the House at the beginning of the 116th Congress by Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) Co-Chair Rep. Austin Scott (GA) and the rest of the CSC leadership. CSF played a leading role to see that the Senate companion bill, S. 2092, was reintroduced over the summer by CSC Member Senator Jim Risch (ID) as well as the entire CSC Senate Leadership, among other Caucus Members. These bipartisan bills would provide states with the flexibility to use Pittman-Robertson funds for hunter and recreational shooter recruitment, retention, and reactivation programs; promotion and marketing of hunter education programs; and education to the non-hunting public about the role of hunters and recreational shooters in wildlife conservation.
Federal Land Management
Earlier this year, Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) Member Congressman Bruce Westerman (AR) introduced H.R. 2607, the Resilient Federal Forests Act, which would improve the health of federal forests and reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires. This legislation would provide land management agencies with additional tools to ensure forests are managed to provide for wildlife diversity, critical habitats, and water quality. It would also reduce the need for emergency wildfire suppression costs, which takes about 50% of the U.S. Forests Service funding every year. One categorical exclusion in the bill would support management activities creating early successional forests, which would increase critical habitat for a variety of species including ruffed grouse, American woodcock, Northern Bobwhite quail, elk, and wild turkey, as well as non-game species.
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