Contact: Joe Mullin, New England States Senior Coordinator
The 2020 legislative sessions throughout the northeast region have been, and continue to be, anything but slow. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) has been hard at work in the states, working alongside the various governors, Caucuses, and state fish and wildlife departments to protect and advance policies related to hunting, fishing, recreational shooting, and trapping. Roughly a month prior to many northeastern legislatures adjourning as a result of the pandemic, CSF had been tracking over 700 sportsmen-related bills; over 60 of which CSF directly engaged on, including providing written and/or verbal testimony, or coordinated support/opposition with relevant CSF partners. Since then, there have been several more occasions in which CSF acted upon sportsmen’s bills, while simultaneously working to ensure that hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting opportunities remained available during the COVID-19 shutdown. While there will certainly be more opportunities to engage on sportsmen-related legislation in the near future, CSF has been actively involved in the numerous instances highlighted below. While this list is by no means a comprehensive accounting of all of CSF’s engagement, it shines light into various efforts that have occurred thus far. For a more exhaustive and detailed list, please refer to CSF’s Quarterly Outdoor Heritage Report.
Along with engaging on various legislative and regulatory proposals, and prior to the onset of COVID-19, wherein states began shutting down public events, CSF took part in seven Caucus events in the Northeast region. One such gathering was the Annual Sportsman-Legislator Breakfast, hosted by the New York Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus in late January. Those in attendance at this event included Caucus members, key staff from the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, and numerous in-state and national conservation partners. Conversations centered around lowering the hunting age to 12 years old, as well as efforts to expand the use of crossbows. As CSF navigates the path forward in these unusual times, the Northeastern States Program Team members look forward to hosting future events at a time when they are deemed permissible.
Connecticut: Trophy Import Ban (HB 5104)
On February 21, CSF submitted a sign-on letter of opposition to the Connecticut Joint Committee on Environment for its consideration during a public hearing regarding HB 5104 – legislation that sought to prohibit the import, sale, and possession of items from legally hunted African species. This bill would have unjustly thwarted legal hunting in African nations, deflecting necessary funding for anti-poaching programs, while also financially crippling rural communities that are in great need of the economic support. HB 5104, a “big six African species” ban, ran directly counter to long-standing methods of professional wildlife conservation efforts. CSF coordinated and submitted a sign-on letter of opposition with the support of 17 in-state and national conservation organizations, as well as one of the state’s largest taxidermy studios. Despite HB 5104 having been reported favorably out of Committee (21-7), the Connecticut General Assembly has subsequently adjourned sine die, and this bill has failed to pass.
Maine: Bear Baiting Ban (Regulatory Proposal)
On June 2, CSF submitted written testimony to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) in opposition to a bear baiting ban petition that the Department received. The proposal would amend Chapter 16.09 – Bear Hunting of the MDIFW Rules as they relate to bear baiting – an effective and legitimate wildlife management tool that is implemented to manage the bear population and reduce human-wildlife conflicts. The proposal ultimately calls for a complete end to the practice of bear baiting by the end of the 2029 season. This petition poses to threaten the state’s fish and wildlife management funding, as generated under the American System of Conservation Funding, while also eliminating a critical wildlife management tool that the MDIFW relies on. CSF also submitted a sign-on letter that saw unified support from 17 in-state and national conservation organizations, demonstrating wide-spread opposition from the sportsmen’s community at large. At this point in time, the MDIFW is in the process of reviewing the testimony that has been submitted and will announce the next steps forward.
New Hampshire: Fish and Game Commission Structure (HB 1571)
On February 4, CSF testified during a New Hampshire House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee hearing in opposition to HB 1571 – legislation that would have permitted animal rights groups and other anti-hunting interests to become members of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Commission (Commission). Per the language in the bill, the Commission would authorize “nonconsumptive recreational club” members to sit within its ranks, opening the door to obstructionist behavior on a regulatory entity with a very narrow focus on rules pertaining to the take of wildlife. CSF also submitted a letter of opposition to the Committee regarding this bill, citing the dangerous precedent that it sets. Due in large part to efforts driven by CSF, in-state, and national conservation organizations, this bill was voted “Inexpedient to Legislate” by the New Hampshire House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee with a result of 16-6. The bill has since been tabled by the legislature.
New Jersey: Beaver Permits (A 2731)
On January 13, A 2731, a bill to remove the statutory limits on the number of beaver permits that can be issued by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife became eligible for consideration by the Governor. The bill received strong bipartisan votes in both the Assembly and the Senate and was sponsored and co-sponsored by several leaders and members of the New Jersey Angling and Hunting Conservation Caucus including Co-Chairs Assemblyman Parker Space, and Senators Stephen Sweeney and Steven Oroho. The current limits on beaver take were first set in statute in 1954 at a cap of 100 permits with a season bag limit of 1 beaver per permit. As the population has expanded, it has pushed beavers into marginal habitat and has increased nuisance complaints from landowners and municipalities. This bill would have returned this critical fish and wildlife management decision to the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, which is best equipped to guide beaver management with sound, biological principles, instead of arbitrarily proscribed statutory allowances. Unfortunately, the Governor pocket vetoed this legislation, which is aligned with the many other anti-sportsman, anti-science-based management actions he’s taken, while in office, including shutting down bear hunting on all state lands.
New York: Lead Ammunition Ban on Public Lands (A 703)
Assembly Bill 703 would prohibit the use of lead ammunition for hunting on wildlife management areas, state forests, forest preserves, state parks, or any other state-owned land that is open for hunting. As well, the provisions would extend to private property that contributes to the New York City water supply – which, given the extensive network of reservoirs and aqueducts in rural upstate New York would mean a significant amount of private property would also be affected by this ban. CSF communicated with numerous in-state and national partners on this bill as well as the Caucus Co-Chairs and members, and also distributed an action alert encouraging others in New York to contact their legislators to oppose the bill. A Senate companion bill was not introduced, and although the Assembly bill became eligible for floor consideration in late February it failed to advance to a final vote. .
Vermont: Restrictions on Hunting Bear with Hounds (SB 321)
SB 321 was originally introduced by Vermont Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Senator Alice Nitka as a fish and wildlife omnibus bill that cleaned up some statutory language, and provided the Fish and Wildlife Department additional authority to provide additional free fishing days and to eradicate feral swine. However, in the early stages of Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee discussion on this bill, anti-hunting amendments were offered which would significantly impact hunting bears with hounds, and would set up a new government panel to provide input on wildlife management decisions which excluded sportsmen and women from the process. Specific to hunting bears with hounds, the new language would have resulted in a near ban on the practice throughout the state, as it would be largely impossible for sportsmen and women to meet the proposed restrictions. These provisions included keeping your dogs within sight at all times, ensuring that no dog gets more than 528 feet away from the handler at any time, and ensuring that dogs do not cross onto private property unless the hunter has secured written permission from the owner beforehand. Failing to meet any one of these provisions would subject the hunter to a loss of hunting privileges for five years, and a second offense would result in a lifetime ban. CSF conducted direct outreach to members of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy when they considered these amendments and issued an action alert to encourage others to do the same. Ultimately, the Caucus Co-Chair who sponsored the initial bill ended up withdrawing it due to the inclusion of these anti-sportsmen provisions – something that is highly unusual for a Senator to do in Vermont, and something which CSF commends her for.
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?