January 20, 2020

Northeast: Themes in Anti-Sportsmen Legislation in 2020 Beginning to Emerge

Contacts: Senior Director, Northeastern States and States Program Administrator Brent Miller & New England States Coordinator Joseph Mullin

With state legislative sessions beginning across the northeast, members of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation’s (CSF) States Program Team are hard at work tracking and engaging on legislation throughout the region. In the coming months, northeast staff will continue to support the work of regional state legislative sportsmen’s caucuses through tracking, monitoring, and advocating on numerous high-priority policy issues related to hunting, angling, recreational shooting, and trapping. 

Though it is still early in 2020, regional staff are already seeing similar trends in anti-sportsmen legislation as were observed last year. Beyond the slew of anti-gun bills that are already being discussed throughout the region, below are some of the many priorities that CSF will be working on in 2020:

Changes to Fish and Game Commissions

New Hampshire HB 1571

This bill would amend the required qualifications for members of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Commission, potentially allowing anti-sportsmen to have a seat at the table. The language in HB 1571 calls for the Commission to begin permitting “nonconsumptive recreational club” representation within its ranks, which would have the result of doing nothing more than opening the door to obstructionist behavior on a regulatory entity with a very narrow focus on rules pertaining to the take of wildlife. 

Vermont HB 582

This bill would require the Vermont Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife and its Board to a “allocate benefits to avoid systematically privileging some beneficiaries over others.” Introduced alongside HB 581 – which would require a working group be established to study the funding of all Department of Fish and Wildlife activities regarding the conservation and management of fish, wildlife, and fur-bearing animals of the State – both bills provide a misguided (and in multiple ways, inaccurate) account of the historic and present role of Vermont’s sportsmen and women in conservation, and should be seen as an affront to our community’s long-standing commitment to all fish and wildlife species and their habitat. 

Discharge Distance Restrictions

New Hampshire HB 1115

HB 1115 would adjust the current discharge distance for a firearm from 300 feet to an astounding 900 feet, closing off a significant amount of land to hunters across the state. This arbitrary modification to the current law reflects a common trend in the Northeast, as the anti-hunting community seeks out ways to restrict access for sportsmen and women. In 2019, CSF engaged on a number of similar bills in Massachusetts, including SB 441, SB 443, and HB 3926, and is prepared for similar battles in Massachusetts and other states in the region this year. 

Hunting Contest Bans

New Hampshire SB 588

SB 588 would prohibit sportsmen from organizing, promoting, soliciting participation in, participating in “any contest that results in the taking of fur-bearing animals, game animals, migratory game birds . . ., or any other wildlife, except for fish.” Hunting tournaments provide a heightened level of comradery and affability amongst the participants, offering participants the ability to challenge each other in a regulated environment, spurring a determination that often leads to lifetime memories and newly built relationships. New methods and strategies are passed from one hunter to another, increasing the collective effectiveness and unity of the hunting community. Prohibiting hunting contests bars sportsmen and women from experiencing the increased level of communal enjoyment unique to the practice.  

New Jersey AB 1365

This newly introduced legislation would make it “unlawful to harass or take covered wildlife at a competitive event.” The bill broadly defines covered wildlife as “all animal life existing in a wild state… except for fish, shellfish, mollusks, or crustaceans,” and the competitive event definition includes “any activity, competition, contest, derby, tournament, or other organized activity where participants are encouraged to take wildlife and are rewarded by the receipt of a prize or any kind of inducement or reward.” This broad definition would even cover things like big buck contests at local “mom and pop” sporting goods stores. 

New York AB 722-B

CSF will continue to oppose AB 722-B in the second half of the biennium. Though favorably amended from the originally introduced version, this bill would still make it “unlawful for any person to organize, sponsor, conduct, promote, or participate in any contest, competition, tournament, or derby with the objective of taking the largest number of small game, wild birds, other than wild turkeys, and domestic game birds for prizes or other inducement, or for entertainment.” As with similar legislation in New Hampshire and New Jersey, CSF remains opposed to hunting contest bans which limit opportunities for sportsmen and women to forge relationships with one another while also allowing methods and techniques to be passed down from generation to generation.

Although these are some of the themes northeast region staff is witnessing early in the 2020 sessions, this is by no means an exhaustive list of the legislation that the Foundation is tracking related to hunting, fishing, recreational shooting, and trapping. In fact, though incredibly early in the year, northeast region staff are already tracking over 1,600 bills related to sportsmen’s issues, with more being introduced each week. For specific information on the topics and states that you care most about, please sign up for Tracking The Capitols, a free service which allows you to search for legislation and receive personalized email alerts straight to your in-box on a schedule of your choosing.

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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