By John Culclasure, Central Appalachian States Manager
On October 12, a coalition of sportsmen’s conservation organizations submitted a letter to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) encouraging the agency to move forward with rulemaking to open Sunday hunting on Game Lands.
In 2017, the Outdoor Heritage Enhanced legislation was signed into law, removing the prohibition against hunting with the use of firearms on public lands of the state managed for hunting, subject to rules established by the WRC. The bill was a priority for the North Carolina Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus and member groups of the Sunday Hunting Coalition.
Since passage of the bill, however, the WRC has not proposed any rules to open Sunday hunting on the state’s roughly 2 million acres of Game Lands. In the summer of 2018, the WRC conducted an online poll to weigh public opinion on the prospect of allowing Sunday hunting on 61 specific Game Lands. At the WRC’s Committee of the Whole meeting on October 2, the WRC opted to not take any rule proposals that would open Sunday hunting on Game Lands to public comment in the January 2018 rulemaking cycle.
Two full hunting seasons will pass with no public land Sunday hunting since the 2017 legislation was signed into law. After the WRC’s recent action to forego rulemaking, that would potentially open some Game Lands for Sunday hunting in time for the 2019-2020 hunting season, sportsmen’s groups decided to urge action.
The letter included several important notes: the longstanding commitment of the WRC to increase access for hunters as well as the successful track record of Sunday hunting in North Carolina; the WRC’s past expressed support for expanding Sunday hunting opportunities; the importance of increasing hunting opportunities for sportsmen and women with limited access to private lands; the fact that Game Lands are purchased and managed in large part with hunter-generated conservation dollars through the American System of Conservation Funding; the importance of reducing barriers to participation in hunting to support hunter recruitment, retention, and reactivation; and the economic and conservation funding benefits provided by removing Sunday hunting restrictions.
Additionally, sportsmen’s groups offered to help educate non-consumptive user groups about the benefits of Sunday hunting and to work with them to ease perceived fears about Sunday hunting on Game Lands. Sunday hunting on public lands is legal in some capacity in 46 states, including adjacent states Georgia and Tennessee, which have no restrictions against Sunday hunting on public lands.
On October 16, the Hunting and Shooting Sports Conservation Council also submitted a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue encouraging him to direct the U.S. Forest Service to support opening Sunday hunting on the 1.2 million acres of National Forest System lands in North Carolina that are managed as Game Lands.
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?