In most states, fish and wildlife agencies are the entities best equipped to address fish and wildlife management issues within their respective borders. Recent efforts have been made to undermine state fish and wildlife management authority by placing greater authority under federal or local jurisdiction poses a serious threat to the future of state-based scientific fish and wildlife management, as well as hunting, fishing, and trapping.
State fish and wildlife agencies have long been recognized as the primary and most well-equipped managers of fish and wildlife in the United States. These agencies are staffed by trained professionals with backgrounds in a wide variety of expertise, including biology, law enforcement, land management, wildlife biology, and numerous other disciplines. These agencies carry out on-the-ground conservation efforts and possess an intimate understanding of their states’ conservation priorities. Fish and wildlife agencies engage with hunters, anglers, trappers, and recreational shooters as key stakeholder groups to ensure that outdoor recreation opportunities are being maximized for the benefit of the public. This ensures that conservation funding that is derived from the purchase of licenses and tags, as well as excise taxes paid on hunting and fishing-related expenditures, will continue to flow back to the state through the American System of Conservation Funding. While state-based fish and wildlife management certainly exist, these issues can often be resolved through the state’s regulatory or legislative process, which provides opportunities for input from the state’s citizens.
In recent years, attempts have been made to place greater control of fish and wildlife management in the hands of federal regulators. These attempts include efforts to curtail predator management (which is carried out by states with the aim of aiding populations of game animals) on federal lands managed by the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, or certain Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that include substantial, unscientifically justified closures to recreational fishing, such as the Biscayne Bay Marine Reserve. Despite objections from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, the marine reserve created in Biscayne Bay by the National Park Service closed off over 10,000 acres of the park’s most popular and productive waters to angling and boating. These closures were also made despite commitments from Biscayne National Park officials to work with stakeholders and the state of Florida to explore less restrictive options.
Similarly, local governments (cities, counties, and local municipalities) have attempted to assert greater control over hunting, angling, and land access within their respective jurisdictions. This local control can interfere with the state agencies’ ability to effectively manage fish and wildlife populations using proven, science-based techniques. Ceding authority to municipalities poses numerous issues for scientific fish and wildlife management. Local governments are generally not staffed by those trained in fish and wildlife management and are not likely to have the resources necessary to hire such staff. When municipalities attempt to regulate hunting and fishing, they often impact the ability of the state agency to properly manage fish and wildlife populations. This also creates an inconsistent and confusing regulatory patchwork across an individual state, which can be discouraging to hunters and anglers outside of these areas.
- The U.S. Department of the Interior overstepped Alaska state authority in 2016 by limiting recreational and subsistence hunting practices on wildlife refuges in the state. Under the Congressional Review Act, Congress is able to overturn federal regulations within 60 days of finalization by passing a joint resolution of disapproval. Congressman Don Young (AK) introduced HJR 69 to do so in 2017, which was later passed and signed into law.
- Maine HB 7, introduced in 2017, “proposes to amend the Constitution of Maine to provide that the laws of the State governing wildlife management may not be amended by the citizen initiative process.”
- Alaska HJR 20, introduced in 2015 by National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses Executive Council member Representative Mark Neuman, urged “…the United States Congress to enact legislation to clarify and recognize each individual state’s authority to manage the fish and wildlife within its borders.”
- California AB 665, introduced in 2015 by California Outdoor Sporting Caucus Co-Chair Assemblyman Jim Frazier, would “…provide that the state fully occupies the field of the taking and possession of fish and game” and that…”the commission and the department are the only entities that may adopt or promulgate regulations regarding the taking or possession of fish and game on any lands or waters within the state.”
- Congresswoman Ileana Ross-Lehtinen (FL) introduced the Preserving Public Access to Public Waters Act, in 2015 which would require state collaboration and agreement between the Secretaries of Interior and Commerce before any marine reserve or protected area could be implemented in state or territorial waters.
- Passed in 2011, Arizona SB 1334, states that “A political subdivision of this state shall not enact any ordinance, rule or regulation limiting the lawful taking of wildlife during an open season established by the Arizona Game and Fish Commission …” but specifies that local governments may restrict the discharge of a firearm within ¼ mile of an occupied structure.
- Montana’s SJR 6 became law in 2019 and requested that the state’s congressional delegation work to return management of the state’s recovered grizzly bear populations to the state and initiate further review of grizzly bear populations that meet the criteria for delisting.
- UT HB 315 – Amends provisions of the Municipal Land Use, Development, and Management Act and the County Land Use, Development, and Management Act; defines terms; addresses local authority to adopt local land use requirements and regulations; amends the process to vacate a public street; clarifies local authority regarding a planning commission; amends the authority of a local legislative body regarding zoning.
- NY SB 2409, newly passed in New York, Amends the Environmental Conservation Law; extends the authority of the Department of Environmental Conservation to fix by regulation measures for the management of crabs.
Legislators should remain vigilant against attempts to curtail state fish and wildlife management authority by working with both agency staff and sportsmen stakeholder groups to discourage local regulation of hunting fishing, and trapping. This will mitigate issues that arise from local interference and federal overreach into longstanding and well-established state management authority. Further, state legislators are encouraged to consider introducing preemptive legislation that specifically states that their fish and wildlife agency will retain management authority, and that municipal governments are not able to regulate hunting, fishing, and trapping at the local level.