Grizzly and Wolf Delisting. Congressional bill HR 764 was introduced to delist wolves in the Lower 48 in February, and passed the House Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife and Fisheries on a 21-16 vote on April 28th. That same day the committee passed a bill to delist grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) in HR 1245 on a 21-17 vote. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is currently undertaking a 12-month review of the GYE and Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem populations. RMEF supports these delisting proposals.
Proposals introduced to cut Land and Water Conservation Fund acquisition funding. Three separate bills were introduced in late April that would limit or cut funding for land acquisitions by various federal agencies. Arizona congressman Andy Biggs and several cosponsors introduced HR 2158, HR 2169 and HR 2207 to cut the Land and Water Conservation Fund acquisition budgets for the USFWS, National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service. Permanent funding for these access programs was the centerpiece of the Great American Outdoor Act just a few years ago, legislation RMEF and its members championed. RMEF opposes these bills and encourages members to click the links above to see if your legislator is a sponsor and voice your opposition as well.
Managing national forests for habitat and wildfire resiliency. The Forest Service has received billions of additional dollars for forest management, mainly to reduce the risk of wildfires and aid in recovery. Growing frustration with the slow pace of progress has many in Congress pushing for regulatory reforms so forest management dollars can be converted into habitat and fire resilient ecosystems. RMEF’s policy focus is on fixing the Cottonwood Decision, a judicially created mandate that federal land agencies, the USFWS and National Oceania and Atmospheric Administration reconsult every time new information on endangered species comes to light. RMEF testified on House legislation in March and is working with Senate leaders on their forthcoming bill. Additionally, RMEF supports the Save Our Sequoias Act in an effort to build bipartisan consensus on regulatory reforms to expedite conservation of the iconic Giant Sequoias in California. Legislation moving these bills forward passed key House and Senate committees on May 17th.
USDA-APHIS planning document suggests animal rights. RMEF was concerned by statements included in a recently released USDA planning document embracing animal rights. The document includes the statement: “… many will agree that livestock and wildlife be provided the same rights as domesticated pets” in a section where the federal agency considers expanding stakeholders. This is a fundamental shift from a philosophy of stewardship, responsibility, compassion and humane treatment of livestock and wildlife. It is a concern that policy changes that affect hunting and wildlife management could flow from a changing official view of perceived wildlife “rights.”
California. Legislature still in session.
AB 28 would impose an excise tax of 11 on the retail sale of all firearms, firearm parts and ammunition. Revenues collected would be deposited in the “Gun Violence Prevention, Healing and Recovery Fund” and used to fund various gun violence prevention, education, research, response and investigation programs. The bill was heard in committee May 10th.
SB 772 would expand eligibility for junior hunting licenses from 15 and under to 17 and under. SB 772 was heard in the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee on April 11th, passing out on a unanimous vote. SB 772 passed the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday, May 8th.
Colorado. Legislature adjourned.
The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission finalized the wolf reintroduction and management plan on May 3rd. The plan calls for releasing 30-50 wolves over three to five years in the region of the state including Vail, Glenwood Springs and Aspen or in a region surrounding Gunnison and Montrose. The final plan departs from the original proposal in that it is silent to the potential for designating wolves as a game species following recovery. Recovery will require a population of 150 wolves over two years, or 200 wolves in one year. RMEF members submitted more than 1,000 comments during the process.
Two significant wolf bills passed the legislature with RMEF support. SB 255 creates a wolf depredation compensation fund and program, which passed with bipartisan support and was signed into law. SB 256 clarified the sequence of wolf introduction actions by requiring that a federal endangered species 10j classification was required before wolves could be released in the state. RMEF strongly advocated for the 10j designation before release because it maximizes state authority for wolf management even though the federal government has supremacy under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Animal rights extremists ironically objected because the federal bureaucracy could potentially delay the release of endangered wolves. RMEF members generated thousands of contacts with legislators and the governor’s office to encourage passage and signing it into law, but Governor Polis rejected the sportsmen and agriculture community and vetoed it.
Colorado’s legislature passed several firearm-related provisions that affect hunters and RMEF fundraising. Minimum ages increased from 18 to 21 and created a new three-day-waiting period before taking possession of a firearm after purchase. Other new laws allow victims to sue manufacturers and dealers and the state’s “red flag law” was broadened to allow district attorneys, college faculty, teachers as well as medical professionals to petition to have firearms taken away from individuals that they claim are deemed to be a danger. Many of these new laws are likely to be challenged in court.
Kentucky. Legislation to finalize the state purchase of an access easement and permanently secure the Ataya Wildlife Management Area had been vetoed at the time of the last newsletter. RMEF is happy to report the House and Senate collaborated to successfully override the governor’s veto by a wide margin. Senator Robin Webb continues to be a champion on this and other sportsmen’s issues.
Minnesota. An omnibus environment funding and policy bill passed in the closing days of the session, and appropriation of $2.3 million was included for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa to capture and release elk into the Fond du Lac State Forest and reservation near Carlton. The funds are available until 2026, and it is not clear how much the planned capture and release will cost, but RMEF will stay engaged as the project moves forward. Additionally, landowners will now be allowed to haze and harass elk and deer that are damaging crops, hopefully improving tolerance of elk in the northwestern part of the state. Finally, an effort to prohibit future wolf hunts was kept out of the final bill despite passing as a floor amendment in the House in April. This link will take you to the vote analysis to see how your legislator voted.
Montana. Legislature adjourned.
RMEF entered the Montana legislative session with a goal of turning down the partisan heat on conservation issues. Compared to recent sessions, that mission was accomplished. RMEF had a contract lobbyist in Helena representing its interests day to day, and staff and volunteers testified several times during the session. RMEF also participates in the Montana Sportsmen’s Caucus Advisory Council where hunting, fishing and trapping interest groups work out recommendations to the legislators that are members of the caucus.
HB 372 would have strengthened the Montana constitution to protect hunting, fishing and trapping- including the use of traditional means and methods. This was a response to recent ballot measures that attempted to prohibit trapping methods in the state, and to get ahead of future efforts to attack hunting as has occurred in places like Colorado and California. Passage required 100 votes of the 150-member legislature, but the final tally failed with 26 yes votes in the Senate and 64 votes in the House (click on the links to see how legislators voted).
SB 442 was a legislative compromise that would adjust the formula for how marijuana tax money is dedicated. In 2021, the legislature set a formula with 20 percent of the available revenue dedicated to Habitat Montana, a program traditionally funded by nonresident hunting license fees. Coming into the ’23 session Governor Gianforte proposed a budget that slightly increased Habitat Montana funding while cutting the 20 percent dedication that would have provided significantly more funding. RMEF has always stayed neutral on the legalization of marijuana, but strongly supports Habitat Montana and sought a compromise to “right-size” the program. SB 442 altered the formulas by creating a Habitat Legacy account that received the 20 percent, with three quarters of that funding directed to Habitat Montana with the remainder funding a broader set of habitat projects. This compromise bill, supported by RMEF and others, passed overwhelmingly, but was vetoed by the governor.
A series of bills were introduced to limit nonresident hunters in Montana, including proposals to limit the numbers and time that nonresidents could hunt in the state. Most of those proposals were defeated, although the only two bills that RMEF weighed in on did pass. SB2 81 limits nonresidents to two antlerless class B licenses. HB 635 sets aside 15 percent of nonresident licenses for landowners and incentivizes them to enroll their land in access programs.
Several improvements to access programs passed with RMEF support. SB 58 increased the incentive payment cap for block management, which should increase acres in the program. HB 596 passed with tweaks to the 454 elk access program which incentivizes landowners to allow at least three members of the public to hunt on their property in exchange for a landowner license. The bill restricts landowners to their own property and allows at least one of the public hunters to hunt bulls.
Nevada. RMEF joined other wildlife organizations in expressing concerns about firearms legislation that would have made semi-automatic shotguns and rifles used by youth hunters illegal. HB 355 broadly prohibited possession of semi-automatic firearms by anyone under age 21 and made no amendments to address hunting or target shooting. The bill was vetoed by the governor. RMEF also expressed concerns over legislation to designate “wild mustangs” as the official state horse. Feral and wild horses and burros are an extreme threat to wildlife and landscapes in many places but are particularly devastating in arid Nevada.
Oregon. Oregon’s Fish and Wildlife Commission currently has seven members, five representing congressional districts and two at large from the east and west sides of the state. However, since Oregon now has a sixth congressional district, the make-up of the commission must be restructured. RMEF and other hunting and fishing interests have proposed HB 3086 to structure the commission based on the state’s major riversheds so commissioners represent permanent ecoregions dispersed across the state rather than temporary political districts that are clumped around the urban centers. Resistance from animal rights and anti-hunting factions has been the major obstacle, preferring that Portland and Eugene have most of the representation.
Washington. Factions within the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission are proposing a radical “Conservation Policy” that redefines conservation and undermines the proven North American model of wildlife management to accommodate the interests of anti-hunting activists. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is collecting public comments on the proposed plan until June 30 through this website. The draft plan redefines conservation from the traditional understanding first coined by Gifford Pinchot and Theodore Roosevelt as “the wise use of the earth and its resources for the lasting good of men”- a concept explicitly different than “preservation.” Their proposed definition actually uses the term “preserve” and adopts animal-rights buzz words and concepts that diminish harvest, hunting and fishing. RMEF encourages members from around the country to weigh in and emphasize that Hunting Is Conservation ® and traditional wildlife management is superior to the fuzzy ideological proposals coming from anti-hunting interest groups.
RMEF ADVOCACY WEBPAGE
If you are interested in getting involved in advocacy, visit the RMEF advocacy webpage to see the bills RMEF is tracking, to contact your representatives at the state and federal levels, and even to get contacts for your local newspapers to write letters to the editor.