April 20, 2020

Nebraska: A Look into the Cornhusker State’s 2020 Session

Contact: Kent Keene, Lower Midwestern States Coordinator

The 2020 legislative session in Nebraska’s unicameral legislature has seen many pieces of legislation that would impact sportsmen and women, and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) has been working closely with partners, including the Nebraska Sportsmen’s Foundation, to monitor and engage on legislation in the Cornhusker State. In Nebraska, as in many Midwestern states, many sportsmen and conservation priorities have already been passed. With that, much of our effort in 2020 has focused on protecting against bills that challenge the management authority of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC), the American System of Conservation Funding (ASCF), and the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. 

Limited Transferrable Hunting Permits (LB 1173):

Introduced as a bill designed to protect against crop depredation, LB 1173 would require NGPC to issue transferrable hunting permits for landowners who are experiencing, or who are likely to experience, damage to agriculture, horticulture, or other land caused by deer, elk, or antelope. If NGPC does not issue a transferrable permit within 15 days of receiving an application, the landowner may kill or remove the animal without a permit, though they must inform NGPC of any action within three days. As implied in the name, landowners receiving a transferrable permit would be allowed to transfer, including the ability to sell, their permit to anybody who is otherwise qualified to apply for a regular hunting permit. This system would be an afront to the Public Trust Doctrine outlined in the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation by allowing a landowner to potentially profit on wildlife that is not property of the landowner but rather held in public trust for the benefit of all Nebraskans. 

CSF submitted a letter of opposition to the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee on February 12. In this letter, we pointed out that though hunting is the preferred tool for managing game populations, it should be regulated by professionally trained biologists using the best available science. We also pointed out that NGPC has already instituted a crop depredation program available to all landowners. Following a hearing in the Natural Resources Committee, LB 1173 has seen no further action.  

Wildlife Damage Recovery Act (LB 1071)

LB 1071 would require NGPC to set aside $3 million annually from revenue received through the American System of Conservation Funding for the Wildlife Damage Recovery Fund. This bill would divert critical conservation revenue, paid for by hunters and anglers, away from current uses to be made available for damage payments to landowners who are experiencing wildlife-related property damage. Clearly, LB 1071 would have had a severe negative impact on the Commission’s ability to fund conservation efforts in Nebraska. Fortunately, this bill was indefinitely postponed on March 6 and will not pass. 

Ownership of Land by the Game and Parks Commission (LB 863)

Essentially the opposite of No-Net-Loss legislation that seeks to ensure public access opportunities are protected and increased, LB 863 sought to cap the amount of land that NGPC could own and manage for public access. In order to acquire new or additional land, NGPC would have been required to sell an equal amount of land currently owned by the Commission. On January 30, CSF submitted a letter of opposition to members of the Natural Resources Committee. In the letter, we pointed out that public lands provide crucial opportunities for those who are not fortunate enough to have access to private lands for outdoor pursuits. In this capacity, public lands, especially those near highly populated urban areas, provide a location for new hunters and anglers to become involved in outdoor pursuits, thereby serving an important role in hunter and angler recruitment, retention, and reactivation. Following the committee hearing held for LB 863, no further actions have been taken.

Special Landowner Deer Hunting Permits (LB 126)

Introduced in 2019, this bill would force NGPC to develop a special landowner deer hunting season that would take place during the Saturday through Monday immediately preceding the state’s regular firearm deer season. Qualifying landowners will be eligible to purchase additional landowner permits to use during this season based on the amount of land owned. To qualify, resident landowners must own at least 80 acres while nonresident landowners must own at least 320 acres. 

LB 126 has been widely opposed by members of the sportsmen’s community due to the unfair advantage that it would grant to landowners. Originally proposed as a longer landowner-only season, LB 126 has received several key amendments to decrease the overall negative impact that it would have had on deer hunting in Nebraska. Again, as was the case with LB 1173, the provisions of this bill are an afront to the Public Trust Doctrine by implying private ownership of deer that inhabit privately owned land. Despite wide opposition, LB 126 was poised to be passed by the legislature before session was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, LB 126 awaits final reading once the legislative session resumes. 

Though the unicameral legislature is currently in recess due to the COVID-19 pandemic, CSF is well-positioned to work with partners and members of the Nebraska Legislative Sportsmen’s Forum once the legislative session resumes. 

Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?

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