Contact: Kent Keene, Senior Coordinator, Lower Midwestern States and Agriculture Policy
Why it matters: The Midwest has seen several attempts to overhaul the structure of state fish and wildlife commissions in recent years. In Missouri, one such proposal seeks to change the way that members of such commissions are selected, often attempting to make the commission a political body with members elected by the public, rather than appointed by the Governor. While public engagement is important as it relates to the management of each state’s public trust fish and wildlife resources, it is important that the final decisions are left to those best equipped to make such decisions. As such, we must ensure that merit, rather than politics, is the main criterion used to appoint members of these important Commissions.
On Monday, January 24, the Missouri House Conservation and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing for House Joint Resolution 107 (HJR 107). This resolution proposes a constitutional amendment that would reorganize the Missouri Conservation Commission as an elected body comprised of eight members, rather than the current four-person Commission that is appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. While proponents of this effort claim that an eight-member elected Commission, including one commissioner from each of the state’s regions, would result in better representation for all areas of the state, many members of the sportsmen’s community oppose this effort due to several potentially negative consequences. Should HJR 107 pass through the legislature, it would then go to the ballot for approval by Missouri’s voters.
The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) submitted a formal letter of opposition to HJR 107. In this letter, CSF recognized the importance of public input as it relates to the management of each state’s public trust fish and wildlife resources as well as the ability of sportsmen and women to engage in our time-honored traditions. However, we believe that Missouri currently meets this criteria and provides ample opportunities for public engagement in the form of public comment periods that accompany any and all proposed regulatory changes put forth by the Missouri Conservation Commission. This system satisfies the need for public input while vesting final decision-making authority in the entity best equipped to make such decisions. Additionally, it is important to keep in mind that the selection of Commissioners is made by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Senate, two bodies that are already elected by the public.
Finally, CSF also highlighted one of the most glaring risks associated with the politicization of state fish and wildlife commissions. By forgoing the appointment process and electing commissioners, we open the door to potential intrusion by those who oppose, hunting, trapping, and fishing and could seek to gain election to the Commission in an effort to rescind our rights to hunt, fish, and trap.
There is an old saying that goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” When looking at the history of conservation successes accomplished in Missouri under the leadership of the Missouri Conservation Commission, it is clear that this is a system that isn’t broken.
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?