Reviewing a Hot Topic in the Southeast: Conservation Funding

Highlights

  • Numerous bills impacting conservation funding, some good and others bad, were introduced in southeastern states during the 2021 legislative sessions.
  • Sportsmen and women generate the vast majority of state-based conservation funding through the “user pays -- public benefits” American System of Conservation Funding.
  • Interest in establishing supplemental funding mechanisms, like dedicated sales tax on outdoor gear, continues to grow throughout the region.
  • While well-intentioned, providing free hunting and fishing licenses for certain segments of a state’s population negatively impacts the respective state fish and wildlife agency’s ability to manage fish and wildlife resources and provide services for sportsmen and women.

Why it Matters: Providing adequate funding for conservation is critical to supporting habitat work on public and private lands, managing Wildlife Management Areas, in addition to other lands open to sportsmen and women, managing fish and wildlife and populations, maintaining shooting ranges, and improving access to the outdoors.

The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) worked with National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses (NASC)-affiliated caucuses, conservation partners, and state fish and wildlife agencies across the Southeast to support pro-conservation funding legislation and oppose anti-conservation funding bills. Below is a recap of the some of the conservation funding related bills from 2021:

Louisiana House Concurrent Resolution 55 (HCR 55): HCR 55 was introduced by NASC Executive Council (EC) Member Representative Jerome Zeringue. If enacted, it would establish the Outdoor Conservation Study Group to evaluate and make recommendations to the legislature regarding potential dedicated conservation funding mechanisms for the state to explore. HCR 55 unanimously passed both chambers of the legislature.

Louisiana House Bill 691 (HB 691): HB 691 was introduced by Louisiana Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Member Representative Tony Bacala to restructure hunting and fishing license fees by simplifying license offerings, as well as modestly increasing fees. This was done to help close a substantial revenue gap for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to aid in the conservation of Louisiana’s natural resources and promote positive outdoor recreational experiences for sportsmen and women. HB 691 was signed into law by Governors Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Governor John Bel Edwards.

Mississippi House Bill 1231 (HB 1231): HB 1231 was introduced by NASC EC Member Representative Scott Bounds. The bill would have created the Mississippi Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund (Fund) and dedicated sales tax on outdoor gear for conservation purposes. Despite passing the House on a strong, bipartisan vote, HB 1231 hit a roadblock in the Senate and ultimately died in conference.

Mississippi Senate Bill 2095 (SB 2095): SB 2095 bill would have exempted a manager or member of a limited liability company holding title to land from having to purchase a hunting, fishing, and trapping license. Fortunately, the legislation failed to move and died.

West Virginia Senate Concurrent Resolution 63 (SCR 63): Sponsored by West Virginia Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Senator Bill Hamilton, SCR 63 resolution would have directed the Joint Committee on Government and Finance to study the impact of issuing a free license or waiving fees for certain groups. The resolution was ultimately not adopted, but its introduction demonstrated the importance that the Caucus places on maintaining a strong conservation funding source for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.

West Virginia Senate Bill 394 (SB 394): SB 394 would have waived hunting, trapping, and fishing licenses requirements for municipal volunteer firefighters. SB 394 failed to advance out of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and died.

Additionally, CSF hosted a policy forum and reception in conjunction with the Southern Legislative Conference in Nashville, TN on July 12 focused on conservation funding. CSF’s southeastern staff, Ducks Unlimited Director of Public Policy for the Southern Region Ed Penny, and NASC Executive Council leaders discussed many of the conservation funding initiatives underway in 2021 and relayed learning lessons for their NASC colleagues as they work to protect and advance outdoor sporting traditions in their respective states.              

States Involved

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