BURNING FOR YOU: THE ROLE OF PRESCRIBED FIRE ACROSS THE LOWER MIDWEST
ARTICLE CONTACT: KENT KEENE
Why it Matters: While the dog days of summer may not seem like the ideal time to be thinking about prescribed burning, actions taken now can set the stage for the use of prescribed fire later in the year. For land managers interested in improving wildlife habitat in many parts of the Lower Midwest, this is particularly important. Thanks to the recent passage of bills designed to increase opportunities to implement prescribed fire on private lands in the Lower Midwest, landowners in the region can feel empowered to implement this important practice on their own property.
- Across the Lower Midwest, prescribed burning represents one of the most efficient and cost-effective management practices available to landowners interested in conserving wildlife habitat and native ecosystems.
- In 2021, Missouri passed the Prescribed Burning Act, defining liability standards for private landowners implementing prescribed fire as a management tool.
- Arkansas followed suit in 2023 by passing their own bill defining liability standards, effectively removing one of the most widely cited barriers to the use of prescribed fire on private lands.
For sportsmen and women, particularly those fortunate enough to own their own property, the summer months are arguably the best time to prepare for the hunting seasons that are quickly approaching. While this may conjure images of hanging tree stands and building blinds, land managers also know that this planning must include the actual land management practices designed to promote quality wildlife habitat on their properties. The options available for land management practitioners are virtually endless, but few practices in the Lower Midwest can boast the benefits of prescribed fire.
Whether burning off a dove field ahead of next month’s seasons, preparing the ground for a food plot, or managing the successional stage of what will soon be quality deer, turkey, or small game habitat, prescribed fire is often cited as one of the most efficient and cost-effective active land management practices at our disposal. However, as Uncle Ben once told Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.” It is the responsibility to implement prescribed fire safely, and the associated liability concerns that come with its use, that has intimidated many of landowners and resulted in the absence of prescribed fire on many properties across the region. Fortunately, thanks to the leadership of National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucus (NASC) members in Arkansas and Missouri, along with the efforts of mission partners across the region to educate their members, many of those concerns can be put to rest.
For example, the 2021 session in Missouri saw then-Freshman, and current Missouri Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair, Representative Tim Taylor lead the passage of Missouri’s Prescribed Burning Act (HB 369) which defined liability standards for landowners and tasked the Missouri Department of Conservation with creating a certification course for Prescribed Burn Managers. Two year later, several members of the Arkansas Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus led an effort (SB 415) that accomplished a similar goal in the Natural State, largely aligning liability standards across the two states and effectively removing liability concerns from the considerations that landowners must weigh when electing to implement prescribed fire.
While beneficial when applied appropriately, prescribed fires can be dangerous. For landowners interested in implementing prescribed fire on their property, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) recommends that you contact your state fish and wildlife management agency and seek assistance from trained professionals.
CSC, CSF LEADERS URGE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION TO REVISIT HUNTER EDUCATION INTERPRETATION
ARTICLE CONTACT: TAYLOR SCHMITZ
Why it matters: Hunter education, archery in schools, wilderness courses, and other outdoor focused school activities provide unmatched enrichment opportunities for students from all walks of life. These programs provide critical life skills for students and, according to teachers engaged with these programs, student participation has been correlated with improvements in academic performance, behavior, and school attendance. The dual-pronged approach of a Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus letter paired with a Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) and NGO partner letter demonstrates the uniqueness of CSF to advance the interests of sportsmen and women in the nation’s capital.
- When the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) was signed into law in June 2022, the bill included language that prohibited training in the use of a “dangerous weapon”, which is having the unintended consequence of limiting important school programs such as hunter education, archery in schools, wilderness courses, among many other enrichment programs.
- Last week, the House Leaders of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC), one of the largest and most active bipartisan Caucuses on Capitol Hill, sent a letter to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to encourage the Department of Education to revisit the legislative intent of the BSCA.
- Later in the week, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and 40 of the nation’s leading hunting, wildlife conservation, and recreational shooting organizations also sent a letter to Secretary Cardona with a near identical ask as the House CSC Leaders.
In June 2022, the BSCA was signed into law, which included language that amended the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to prohibit ESEA funds from being used for training school personnel in the use of a “dangerous weapon”, which is defined in federal statute as “a weapon, device, instrument, material, or substance, animate or inanimate, that is used for, or is readily capable of, causing death or serious bodily injury, except that such term does not include a pocket knife with a blade of less than 2½ inches in length”. Unfortunately, this sweeping definition is impacting many programs that are foundational to our sporting heritage such as wilderness courses, archery in schools, hunter education, school sponsored shooting teams, etc. Unfortunately, because of the plain definition of “dangerous weapon”, the BSCA language is limiting the funding opportunities for the aforementioned school programs that are critically important activities for America’s youth.
On August 22, the House CSC Leaders, Co-Chairs Reps. Bruce Westerman (AR) and Jimmy Panetta (CA) and Vice-Chairs Reps. Garret Graves (LA) and Jared Golden (ME), sent a bipartisan letter to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to request the Department of Education to revisit the legislative intent of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to restore funding for various outdoor programs. Two days later, CSF and 40 of the leading sporting-conservation organizations sent a letter to the Department with a nearly identical request as the CSC House Leaders.
While CSF strongly encourages the Department of Education to follow the legislative intent of the BSCA, CSF believes that, at a minimum, the Department of Education should publicly commit to working with Congress to address this issue generated from the BSCA.
CSF will continue to work to see this issue addressed in a timely manner through either a revised Administrative interpretation or a legislative fix to amend the BSCA and ESEA.
WINGSHOOTING SEASONS OFF TO FAST (FLYING) START NEXT WEEK
ARTICLE CONTACT: KENT KEENE
Why it Matters: Representing the first opportunities for wingshooters to tune up for the fall and winter, dove hunting seasons are a great time to get outdoors. As one of the more challenging bird hunting pursuits, dove hunting can be an enjoyable and challenging introduction to the outdoors. Be sure to check local regulations regarding dove hunting, as well as license requirements for those who are interested in trying this pursuit for the first time.
- As one of the earliest hunting opportunities available for sportsmen and women, dove hunting can serve as a primer for the rest of the fall and winter bird hunting seasons.
- For first-time hunters, dove hunting can be an enjoyable, low-stress introduction to wingshooting, particularly in states that offer apprentice hunting licenses for purchase.
- In some parts of the country, dove hunting opportunities, particularly those on state-managed dove fields, may be subject to special regulations that hunters should understand before heading afield.
September is right around the corner, college football is on the horizon, and, for many sportsmen and women, the highlight of the transition from summer to fall is the start of one of the most enjoyable and challenging hunting seasons of the year: dove season. Across much of the Midwest, these small birds are a true test of a wingshooter’s abilities, darting from food sources to watering holes as part of their annual southern migration.
Dove hunting culture is one built as much upon the social component of the activity as it is the hunting itself. Often associated with a pre-hunt cookout and celebration, the low-stress environment that surrounds dove hunting creates the ideal opportunity to support hunter recruitment, retention, and reactivation efforts by introducing a new hunter to the outdoors to the dove field. In states with apprentice hunting licenses available to those who have not acquired their hunter education certification, dove hunting is an early “try it before you buy it” opportunity afield. This type of opportunity is among the reasons that the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) advocates in support of increased apprentice hunting opportunities across the country.
For dove hunters who frequent public dove fields, particularly those managed by state fish and wildlife agencies, a firm understanding of the regulations at play is critical to ensure compliance with any special rules on managed dove fields. For example, hunters on many state-managed dove fields in states like Missouri may be required to use non-toxic shot, rather than the much more common lead. Due to the sheer volume of shots common on many dove hunts, some state agencies have elected to limit shot options and reduce the concentrations of lead on the fields. To learn more about specific regulations related to dove hunting, check your state fish and wildlife agency’s website. Regardless of the shot material used, sportsmen and women should celebrate their contributions to the American System of Conservation Funding and, more importantly, enjoy the start of the season!
THE ISSUE WITH FREE AND DISCOUNTED HUNTING/FISHING LICENSES
ARTICLE CONTACT: MARK LANCE
Why It Matters: Who doesn’t love something at a free or discounted rate, especially when it comes to something that you greatly enjoy doing? Every year across the country, legislators take it upon themselves to attempt to provide certain groups with the opportunity to purchase free or discounted hunting and/or fishing licenses. While we can all agree that many of these efforts are well intended and aim to remove potential barriers of entry to the outdoors or thank individuals for some level of public service, these efforts can have a profound negative impact on conservation funding. Here’s the case for protecting state fish and wildlife agency funding.
- In 2017, former Tennessee State Senator and National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucus (NASC) Executive Council Member (EC) Mike Bell, championed SB 454, which allows the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to be reimbursed by the state general fund for the issuance of free or partially discounted combination hunting and fishing licenses to persons on or after January 1, 2017.
- In 2023, NASC EC Member and Mississippi Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Representative Scott Bounds introduced HB 1012, which mirrored the Tennessee bill and would have allowed the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks to be reimbursed by the state general fund for the issuance of hunting or fishing licenses at a free or discounted rate.
- Also in 2023, Virginia Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Delegate James Edmunds authored similar legislation (HB 2470) that, with the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation’s (CSF) support, passed the Subcommittee and the Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake, and Natural Resources before stalling in the legislative process.
While it’s easy to make the argument that it’s justifiable for certain groups of people to have the opportunity to purchase free or discounted hunting and fishing licenses, we must remember that fish and wildlife are public trust resources that belong to all citizens. Our state fish and wildlife agencies are tasked with managing these public trust resources on limited budgets, and when accounting for inflation, it makes their jobs that much harder when they must fight misguided efforts that reduce their revenue stream.
Through the “user pays – public benefits” American System of Conservation Funding (ASCF), sportsmen and women generate the vast majority of funding for conservation in the states. While it may be easy to look at issuing a free or discounted hunting and fishing license at face value, we must remember the federal dollars that states obtain through the Pittman-Robertson (PR) and Dingell-Johnson (DJ) Acts. These critical federal dollars that each state fish and wildlife agency receive are dependent on the state’s size and the number of paid hunting and fishing license holders in that state. Allowing an individual to obtain a free hunting or fishing license has a far greater impact than just the direct cost of the license because the state misses out on the 3:1 federal matching funds. For example, for a $35.00 license, the state loses the ability to leverage an additional $105.00 for a total loss of $140.00 for every free $35.00 license.
Protecting the integrity of hunters and anglers as the primary sources of conservation funding is critical to successfully managing our fish and wildlife resources and supporting our outdoor sporting heritage. If legislatures wish to recognize or reward specific groups for their societal contributions through the issuance of free or discounted hunting or fishing licenses, CSF encourages legislatures to consider following Tennessee’s lead by passing similar legislation that would reimburse the revenue that the state fish and wildlife agency loses through the issuance of free or discounted licenses. License sales and the federal matching are dollars are critical sources of revenue for state fish and wildlife agencies particularly because most state fish and wildlife agencies are primarily funded through ASCF.
CSF will continue to work alongside the NASC network and fight to protect funding that is critical for conservation and thus the continuation of our shared outdoor sporting traditions, and we hope to see more bills modeled after the Tennessee legislation signed into law in the coming years.
THE TOP ITEMS THAT CONGRESS SHOULD INCLUDE IN THE 2023 FARM BILL
Why It Matters: Generally reauthorized every five years, the United States Farm Bill represents one of the largest and most important pieces of legislation passed by Congress. Covering topics ranging from crop insurance to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Farm Bill’s provisions touch all Americans in one way or another. For sportsmen and women, our nation’s original conservationists, the Farm Bill’s Conservation and Forestry Titles represent some of the greatest investments in fish, wildlife, and forest conservation in the world.
- The U.S. Senate returns on Wednesday, September 6 and the U.S. House returns on Tuesday, September 12. During this time, Congress will largely be working to pass funding for the federal government. However, there is another important program that needs to be addressed that is of critical importance to sportsmen and women, farmers, ranchers, and the entire nation – the Farm Bill.
- At the end of this month, the 2018 Farm Bill will expire, unless reauthorized prior to its expiration. As such, Congress is currently writing the draft legislation to reauthorize the Farm Bill in 2023, and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) is working to secure robust investments for sportsmen and women as part of the Farm Bill.
- It is highly unlikely that a complete, bicameral Farm Bill will be signed into law at the end of the month, but CSF anticipates that draft legislative text will begin receiving consideration in September.
On September 30, the five-year Farm Bill is set to expire. Fortunately, Congress is working to draft a new Farm Bill. CSF expects there to be a draft Farm Bill introduced in September that will pave the way for further discussion and compromise. In advance of this, CSF strongly encourages the House and Senate Agriculture Committees to include sound investments within the Conservation and Forestry Titles of the Farm Bill. These investments include:
Voluntary Public Access – Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP)
VPA-HIP, one of the most important programs to sportsmen and women, provides state fish and wildlife agencies financial resources to create voluntary public recreational access, including hunting and fishing, on private lands while also bolstering fish and wildlife conservation. VPA-HIP’s $50 million that was provided by 2018 Farm Bill has been fully allocated across the country, with demand continuing to grow for the program. Recognizing the importance of the program, CSF urges Congress to include $150 million for VPA-HIP over the five-year life of the Farm Bill.
Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)
CRP is the oldest and most well-known Farm Bill conservation program. CRP provides private landowners with direct payments and other incentives in exchange for converting certain crop production acres to a specific conservation purpose for the duration of a CRP contract, typically 10-15 years. Recognizing the tremendous conservation benefits attributed to CRP, CSF encourages Congress to retain critical investments in the program and maintain wildlife conservation among the program’s objectives while incorporating statutory fixes to bolster enrollment. These fixes include: increased rental payments to encourage participation, improved program flexibility as it relates to grazing, increased overall payment caps, and the permanent inclusion of State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) in continuous CRP. Likewise, CSF joins partners in recognizing the “working lands” aspects of CRP which provides participating landowners with benefits beyond just annual rental payments.
Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP)
ACEP allows landowners to voluntarily establish term-limited or perpetual easements on their property in exchange for financial incentives. Easements under ACEP may be used to ensure land is not converted from agricultural use (Agricultural Land Easements – ALE) or to conserve, restore, and bolster wetlands (Wetland Reserve Easements – WRE). In addition to increased resources for ACEP, CSF has advocated that members of Congress continue to recognize the fish and wildlife habitat and ecological benefits of wetlands created through WRE, both on and off-site.
Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
EQIP provides landowners with cost-share and financial incentives to implement certain conservation practices on private working lands. This program is one of the most popular for private landowners and is often oversubscribed. As such, the key focus for EQIP is additional funding, including the potential retention and inclusion of funds made available to the program last year through the Inflation Reduction Act.
Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP)
CFLRP facilitates forest restoration work on National Forest System lands to reduce wildfire risk and improve forest and watershed health through collaboratively driven, landscape scale stewardship projects. CSF encourages Congress to reauthorize CFLRP for an additional five years to leverage partner investment and increase the capacity of the U.S. Forest Service to carry out forest restoration work in priority forest landscapes.
Good Neighbor Authority (GNA)
GNA allows the United States Forest Service to enter into agreements with state, county, and tribal partners to implement cross-boundary forest health improvement projects on federal forests. CSF urges Congress to provide the same authority as states to tribes and counties for GNA projects. Unfortunately, the 2018 Farm Bill prohibited the ability of restoration services to take place off federal lands. CSF strongly encourages Congress to revisit this and provide the authority to conduct GNA projects on adjacent non-federal lands.
Fish in the Farm Bill
America’s farmlands are intrinsically linked with the nation’s waters and fisheries. Conservation programs in the Farm Bill have long worked with farmers, ranchers, and landowners to restore fisheries – working to stem hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay, prevent harmful algal blooms in the Midwest and conserve stream flow in western states. In addition to the previously mentioned programs that benefit water quality and aquatic habitat, CSF encourages the reauthorization of specific programs that benefit fish, such as the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), Source Water Protection Program (SWPP), and the Watershed Condition Framework (WCF), among others.
MICHIGAN LEGISLATURE RETURNS TO SESSION WITH SPORTING BILLS ON THE DOCKET
ARTICLE CONTACT: BOB MATTHEWS
Why It Matters: Early September often marks the return of year-round legislatures to their respective state capitols, and Lansing is no exception. Upon their return, Michigan legislators will be greeted with a handful of sporting bills – some that advance the interests of sportsmen and women, and some that do not. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) will continue to work with the Michigan Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus to support the positive sporting bills and oppose the negative.
- A package of bills that would create a regulatory framework for commercial hunting and fishing guides while simultaneously improving harvest reporting practices in the state passed the Senate earlier this year, and now lies in wait in the House.
- A pair of bills have been introduced in the House that would statutorily require that anti-hunters occupy seats on both the Michigan Wildlife Council and the Wolf Management Advisory Council.
- The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation is committed to advancing the interests of hunters, anglers, recreational shooters, and trappers, and will work closely with in-state partners and legislators to achieve the best possible outcomes for the state’s sporting community.
Upon their return to Lansing, members of the Michigan Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus will be tackling multiple bills relevant to sportsmen and women in the Great Lakes State. CSF, which worked closely with legislators throughout the first half of the 2023 session, will pick up where the legislature left off before recessing and inform legislators of the impacts – both positive and negative – that these bills will have on Michigan’s robust sporting community.
In May, CSF testified in support of a sporting bill package that passed the Senate and is now waiting to be considered in the House. Senate Bills 103, 104, and 105 would install a regulatory framework for commercial hunting and fishing guides and would impose reporting requirements to help the Michigan Department of Natural Resources better understand where Michigan sportsmen and women are targeting certain species and how successful their efforts are.
The following month, a pair of bills were introduced that would statutorily require that positions on both the Michigan Wildlife Council – which exists to educate the public on the massive role that hunters and anglers play in conservation – and the state’s Wolf Management Advisory Council be reserved for anti-hunting interests. Although these bills, House Bills 4855 and 4856, did not gain immediate traction upon being introduced, and similar legislation has been introduced in previous sessions, CSF will advocate against these bills, which undermine the very principles of conservation in America.
Now that recesses are wrapping up for year-round legislatures, CSF will continue to be the voice of sportsmen and women in the halls of state capitols across the country by supporting positive sporting legislation and opposing negative.
States Involved: MI
SCHOOL’S BACK IN SESSION: THE CASE FOR OUT-OF-STATE STUDENTS PAYING RESIDENT FEES
ARTICLE CONTACT: FRED BIRD
Why it Matters: With Fall semesters underway throughout the country, students within the sporting community will be looking to fields and forests for needed relief and downtime from their studies. On top of financial considerations for books, supplies, and semester credits, non-resident students may have to factor in out-of-state license fees in order to participate in their fall pursuits. With 32states in the country having implemented policies allowing non-resident college students to purchase hunting and/ or angling licenses at resident prices, that still leaves 18 states with out-of-state students who will have to pay non-resident fees to the states which they spend much of their time and physically live in.
- Unlike out-of-state hunters, college students spend much of their time and money within the state they attend school. The rationale for higher license fees does not apply to the same degree as it does to non-resident hunters.
- 32 states have implemented legislation allowing non-resident college students to purchase hunting and/ or angling licenses at resident fees with three states passing legislation in 2023 through CSF’s work with our caucus leadership in MD, OH, and UT.
- In 2023, Maryland Governor Moore signed SB327/HB983 into law. This legislation allows college students to purchase a resident hunting license so long as they provide proof of enrollment in a college or university within the state.
- Additionally in 2023, with the passage of HB 33, Ohio allows full-time non-resident students, who are attending an accredited college or university in Ohio, to purchase a resident hunting license.
- In Utah, among many other things, the passage of HB 30 reclassifies full time non-resident college students as “residents” for the purpose of buying resident rate hunting and fishing licenses.
- The following states allow a form of the license; AL, AR, CO, GA, IA, KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MI, MS, MO, MT, NH, NY, MC, ND, NV, NM, OH, SC, SD, TN, UT, VT, VA, WV, WI, and WY.
In the Recruiting, Retaining, and Reactivating (R3) space, the undergrad aged demo has been identified as the age group when we see a loss in continuance in the hunting sports. Once students leave their support systems, they’ve had for the first 18 years or so of their lives, suddenly full-time students with part-time employment check out of hunting due to lack of financial resources. In an effort to ensure the sporting community has generational continuity, and to best serve R3 efforts across the country, legislators should consider supporting legislation that encourages the continued participation of college students in our traditional sportsmen’s pursuits. States that have not yet enacted policy allowing out-of-state college student hunting/ angling licenses can support our young sportsmen and women with resident priced licenses for their non-resident students. The sporting community stands a chance to retain these hunters for many years to come with college student hunting and angling licenses.
College student hunting/ angling license legislation has long been a policy focal area at CSF and continues to be as we work with our caucuses in the remaining 18 states lacking such policy. Going back nearly a decade in 2014, New Hampshire approved a college student license through the passage of HB 1290 , sponsored by New Hampshire Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Member Representative Benjamin Lefebvre. In 2015, Maine adopted a college student hunting, angling, trapping license, when LD 256, sponsored by Maine Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Member Senator Paul Davis, became law.
As we look to future opportunities, it is important to remember that without college student licenses and other related programs, we risk losing future generations of hunters and anglers. Legislators should consider exploring supporting legislation that facilitates the continued participation of college students in our time-honored sportsmen’s activities.
CSF OFFICIALLY LAUNCHES THE SPORTSMEN’S VOICE PODCAST
September 7, 2023 (Washington, D.C.) – Today, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) officially launched its podcast, The Sportsmen’s Voice Podcast (podcast) on all major podcasting platforms. CSF is excited to bring this long-form discussion to the airwaves with CFS’s own, Fred Bird. Bird is a longtime podcast host in the conservation and hunting space with a passion for storytelling and bringing topics that matter to sportsmen and women to the airwaves. Not one to shy away from asking tough questions, Bird’s ability to discuss controversial topics while bringing his passion and the passions of his guests to the listening audience is both entertaining and enlightening.
Founded in 1989, CSF is the informed authority across outdoor issues and serves as the primary conduit for influencing public policy. Working with the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC), the Governors Sportsmen’s Caucus (GSC), and the National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses (NASC), CSF gives a voice to hunters, anglers, recreational shooters, and trappers on Capitol Hill and throughout state capitols advocating on vital outdoor issues that are the backbone of our nation’s conservation legacy.
The podcast, the audio sibling to CFS’s weekly e-publication, The Sportsmen’s Voice (TSV), will deep dive into a wide-ranging collection of issues that are important to the hunting, fishing and recreational shooting community. This bi-weekly offering aims to pull the curtain back giving the listening audience an inside peek to what’s happening directly from members of the sportsmen’s caucuses CSF supports, leaders in the sportsmen’s community, and staff as Your Inside Connection to Outdoor Legislation.
Tune in every other Thursday for conversations that are shaping the sporting community now and for years to come, wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. From the Beltway to policy happening your way, CSF is covering it all on The Sportsmen’s Voice Podcast.
HOUSE SET TO VOTE ON CSF FORESTRY PRIORITY
Why it matters: The U.S. Forest Service is largely understaffed and underfunded given their immense responsibilities as one of the nation’s largest land managers. The Good Neighbor Authority allows states, counties, and tribes to partner with the Forest Service to conduct forest management projects. States, counties, and tribes have a vested interest in the health of our National Forests, and the Good Neighbor Authority program provides the opportunity for these entities to partner with and increase the capacity of the federal government to enhance forest health.
- This week, the House of Representatives returns from a 6-week recess to resume legislative work.
- During this work week, the House will vote on the Treating Tribes and Counties as Good Neighbors Act, R. 1450, a top forestry priority for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF).
- This bill, led by Congressman Fulcher (ID), will simply allow for Good Neighbor Authority (GNA) projects to take place on non-federal lands, and allows for counties and tribes to retain the revenue generated from GNA forest projects.
Later this week, the House of Representatives will vote on a piece of legislation to modify the Good Neighbor Authority program, known as the Treating Tribes and Counties as Good Neighbors Act, a top forest policy priority for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF). Given the wide-spread support for this common-sense, bipartisan legislation, CSF fully expects this legislation to pass the House.
The Good Neighbor Authority program allows the U.S. Forest Service to enter into partnerships with states, tribes, and counties on forest management and restoration projects to reduce wildfire risk, protect local communities, and enhance wildlife habitats. Unfortunately, the 2018 Farm Bill removed the ability for forest management projects to take place off federal lands, meaning that the adjacent non-federal lands cannot be actively managed under this partnership. H.R. 1450 seeks to reverse the 2018 Farm Bill modification given the importance of managing forest health at the landscape level.
Additionally, under current law, states may collect the revenue generated from conducting the forest management project. However, unlike states, tribes and counties are prohibited from retaining the revenue generated from the forest management project. This means that it is often costly for counties and tribes to conduct a GNA project on federal land and conservation reinvestment opportunities are missed, while their state counterparts can receive the full revenue generated by the GNA project. H.R. 1450 will provide parity among states, tribes, and counties to allow for all parties to retain the revenue generated from GNA projects.
CSF thanks Congressman Fulcher for leading this legislation and thanks the House for voting to pass this legislation. The bill now heads to the Senate for further consideration.
EXPANDING PUBLIC LAND SUNDAY HUNTING OPPORTUNITIES IN THE CAROLINAS
ARTICLE CONTACT: CONNER BARKER
Why It Matters: With fall hunting seasons just beginning, North Carolina and South Carolina public land hunters may include hunting in their Sunday to-do list. Sunday hunting restrictions are blue laws that were originally enacted to encourage church attendance. Now, in both North Carolina and South Carolina, hunters can enjoy public land Sunday hunting opportunities. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) has worked diligently to open these opportunities and will continue to work to further expand Sunday hunting opportunities to reduce a significant access barrier for sportsmen and women.
- Many youth and hard-working sportsmen and women rely on weekend-only hunting due to being in school or working a typical Monday – Friday schedule. In this case, Sunday hunting restrictions may reduce access by 50% to this group of hunters.
- For the first time in the state’s history, South Carolina now allows limited Sunday hunting on public lands which includes seven Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs)and two National Forests comprising over 694,000 acres of seven-day hunting access.
- North Carolina hunters are beginning their third season with public lands Sunday hunting after access was opened on over 1.6 million acres in 2021.
Despite its relatively small size compared to neighboring states, South Carolina offers a plethora of public land hunting opportunities with over one million acres of WMAs available for public land hunting access. This year, South Carolina opened Sunday hunting on seven WMAs and two National Forests from October 15 – January 31 for identified species. The species that are now eligible to hunt on Sundays include mostly small game and, in some instances, deer.
While opening these Sunday hunting opportunities is a significant step forward for hunter access, South Carolina public land hunters have no turkey or waterfowl Sunday hunting opportunities and no small game Sunday hunting in February. In addition, deer season opens August 15 in Game Zones 3 and 4, which is outside of the October 15 Sunday hunting start date causing hunters to miss out on two months of valuable deer hunting opportunities. CSF will continue to work with the South Carolina Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus to expand Sunday hunting opportunities and ultimately, be fully concurrent with private lands hunting seasons.
Moving north, the sportsmen and women of North Carolina are entering their third season with Sunday hunting on public lands. Currently, 51 Game Lands and four National Forests are open for Sunday hunting. While over 80% of the Game Lands acreage is open for Sunday hunting, there is an opportunity to allow Sunday hunting on an additional 37 Game Lands. Additional opportunities for expansion include allowing Sunday hunting on Game Lands for bears in the Coastal Bear Management Unit and opening Sunday hunting for migratory birds on private and public lands statewide. Even though North Carolina would lose its compensatory days for migratory bird seasons, the total number of hunting days would remain the same.
Moreover, a significant barrier to expanding Sunday hunting in North Carolina is the statutory prohibition against hunting with a firearm between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. on Sundays. CSF looks forward to working with the North Carolina Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus and partners in the state to reduce these access barriers in the future.
Other states in the region have experienced success on the Sunday hunting front in recent years as well. In 2018, West Virginia opened Sunday hunting on public lands after allowing Sunday hunting on private lands in 2017 followed by Virginia opening Sunday hunting on public lands, including all of its WMAs, in 2022. Public land Sunday hunting is legal in some capacity in 47 states, including adjacent states Georgia and Tennessee which have no Sunday hunting restrictions.
CSF commends the North Carolina and South Carolina Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucuses for working to expand Sunday hunting opportunities, and CSF will continue to work to remove Sunday hunting restrictions to increase access and opportunity for sportsmen and women.
MAXIMIZING OPPORTUNITIES FOR SPORTSMEN AND WOMEN ON PRIVATE LANDS
ARTICLE CONTACT: KENT KEENE
Why it Matters: Throughout most of the Midwest, land is predominantly held in private ownership. While that does pose a challenge for those who are not fortunate enough to own, lease, or otherwise access these private lands, there are many sportsmen and women who rely solely on private access. However, despite facing less competition with other sportsmen and women, private lands don’t inherently mean better hunting without steps to improve habitat for game species. Fortunately for all sportsmen and women, these steps carry benefits that can extend well beyond property boundaries.
- While many sportsmen and women carry an inherent appreciation for conservation activities on our nation’s public lands, equally important are conservation actions accomplished on private lands, particularly in states in which land is predominantly privately owned.
- For private landowners who implement conservation practices and programs on their property, benefits can include direct compensation, improved habitat – which consequently results in better hunting opportunities – and satisfaction in knowing that the results of their efforts can extend beyond their property boundaries.
- For sportsmen and women who lack private access opportunities, private land conservation efforts can still improve the hunt and provide important ecosystem services that benefit everyone.
Private lands have always represented a bit of a conundrum as it relates to wildlife management. At the forefront of the conversation is the critical importance of protecting private property rights. On the flipside, it is just as important to recognize that, under the Public Trust Doctrine, a pillar of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, wildlife are the property of all citizens in a state and cannot be held in private ownership. In many parts of the country, particularly across the Midwest, meaningful improvements for wildlife and their habitats requires buy-in on private lands.
Given the prevalence of private lands across the region, along with the competing interests that influence the decision-making process for landowners, finding opportunities to incentivize and motivate landowners to voluntarily implement conservation actions on their property is a major challenge for wildlife management agencies. Fortunately, thanks in large part to the availability of a plethora of conservation programs and the efforts of both state and federal agencies and many of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation’s (CSF) conservation partners, the availability of such incentives has never been greater.
From supporting Farm Bill conservation programs like the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) that provide rental payments and cost-share assistance, respectively, to advocating for opportunities to implement practices like prescribed fire without liability concerns (see recently passed legislation in Arkansas and Missouri), CSF works at all levels of government to promote conservation opportunities on private lands. For sportsmen and women who lack access to private lands for hunting, these programs and practices may not appear to provide many direct benefits to their outdoor pursuits. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Regardless of your species of choice, it is important to recognize that wildlife do not recognize property boundaries. As a result, improved habitat on private lands near your favorite piece of public land only enhances your opportunity to have a successful hunt. Further, in the case of many game bird populations, information continues to indicate that participation in programs like CRP can directly correlate to increased harvest opportunities for hunters.
CSF RECOGNIZES RICHARD “DICK” SCHULZE AND LINDSAY THOMAS WITH DINGELL-YOUNG SPORTSMEN’S LEGACY AWARD
September 14, 2023 (WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Yesterday, Richard Taylor “Dick” Schulze and Robert Lindsay Thomas were honored at the 34th Annual Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) Banquet and Auction with the Dingell-Young Sportsmen’s Legacy Award – the highest award given by CSF.
Named in recognition of the Dingell family – Congressmen John D. Dingell, Sr. (D-MI) and John D. Dingell, Jr. (D-MI) – and Congressman Don Young (R-AK), the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation created the Dingell-Young Sportsmen’s Legacy Award to recognize the extraordinary individual and collaborative leadership of the Dingell family and Congressman Young, and their long-standing dedication to the advancement of conservation policy and our outdoor hunting and angling traditions. Like them, Schulze and Thomas’ contributions to our outdoor traditions relied upon a unique commitment to bipartisan collaboration and a shared passion for hunting, fishing, and conservation. With their shared dedication and the vital role they played in establishing the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, the Dingell-Young Sportsmen’s Legacy Award is a fitting tribute for Congressmen Schulze and Thomas.
Schulze was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1975, where he served for 18 years. As a result of his leadership and understanding of complex policy, Schulze rose to serve as the Ranking Member of the House Ways and Means Committee, but his passion always remained with conservation. To satisfy this passion, Schulze also served on the Natural Resources Committee and was a member of the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, two roles that positioned him to be a true leader for sportsmen and women across the country. Recognizing his passion and knowledge of conservation and the outdoors, President George H. W. Bush appointed Schulze to serve on the board of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
Thomas served five terms in the United States House of Representatives during the 1980s and early 1990s, serving on the House Agriculture, Appropriations and Merchant Marine Committees. Following his political service, Thomas served as the director of state governmental affairs for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. He then served as the president and chief executive officer of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. Thomas also served as a longtime board member of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, serving as Board Chairman from 2010-2012.
Schulze and Thomas were the bipartisan founders of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, which has grown into the largest and most effective bipartisan, bicameral caucus in the United States Congress. Schulze, a Republican, and Thomas, a Democrat, banded together in support of sportsmen and women and conservation across the country, an issue that recognizes no political labels, to develop one of the most important political entities for outdoorsmen and women in the country. Since being established in 1989, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus has earned a reputation for its bipartisan effectiveness and for its unparalleled ability to advance policies of interest to sportsmen and women. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus brings together members with a shared passion for our outdoor traditions to work together to protect and advance hunting, fishing, and professional wildlife management.
In recognition of Schulze and Thomas’ leadership in Congress and their innovative commitment to sportsmen and women through the establishment of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, they have been chosen as this year’s recipients of the Dingell-Young Sportsmen’s Legacy Award by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, a well-deserved recognition to individuals who have shown such dedication to our country and to America’s outdoor heritage.
“Schulze and Thomas are innovative leaders that set the precedent for a bipartisan collaboration that remains as the frontline for hunting and angling policy in the Halls of Congress,” said CSF President and CEO Jeff Crane. “This award is in recognition of their lifelong dedication to conservation, their passion for our outdoor pursuits, and their impact that we will forever be grateful for.”
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