Amidst the critical national and international challenges of 2022, SCI remains committed to defending our freedom to hunt. At the top of the list is the issue of hunting access and its growing threats around the world. Whether it is the expanding movement against predator hunting, attacks on federal lands, or the misguided efforts of anti-hunting groups, SCI is taking these fights head on to uphold our hunting traditions for generations to come.
SCI is active in legislatures, boards, and commissions at the state level across the country. Recently, SCI and several partner organizations launched a petition against HB1674 and SB1839 in Tennessee, which would have transferred ownership and management of the Yanahli Wildlife Management Area to the county level. In Tennessee, the state, rather than the county, has the legal authority to manage fish and wildlife. The hunting community was concerned that this transfer from the state to the county level could have diverted Yanahli for other uses or become poorly managed. This action would have reduced access to hunting, fishing, and other recreational activities in the 12,800-acre area. Thanks to the efforts of sportsmen and women in Tennessee, the bills have been withdrawn! This effort sends a strong message from the hunting community: when we stand together, we are a strong voice for hunting rights, conservation, and sustainable wildlife management.
In Washington State, following the initial suspension of the 2022 spring black bear season, sportsmen and conservationists petitioned the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission to restore the hunt. The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission recently accepted a petition and opened a comment period on the potential 2022 spring season. Once again, the pressure from the hunting community worked, and the Commission is considering the proposed rule. The rule to establish a shortened 2022 season demonstrated responsible and sustainable management of black bears while maintaining high levels of opportunity for hunters. Unfortunately, the unelected Commission voted against the spring bear hunt.
A big win for hunters and thanks to the efforts of the hunting community, Governor Youngkin has signed SB 8, expanding Sunday Hunting on Public Lands, into law! This win is huge news for Virginia’s 1.1 million sportsmen and women. SCI extends a huge “Thank You” to Governor Youngkin and to all sportsmen and women who took action to support Sunday hunting.
SCI is working for a No-Net-Loss pledge from the Biden Administration on the federal level. Unfortunately, not only have they failed to do so, but they have recently acted in direct opposition to hunting access. Within the last few weeks, the Department of the Interior has dropped “expand access to hunting” from its FACA hunting council goals, despite its prioritization in previous – Trump, Obama, and Bush – Administrations.
Additionally, SCI is concerned that the Biden Administration will not consider the diversity within the hunting community for the council. Hunters are more than just environmentalists with guns. We share a commitment to conserving wildlife and wild places and back it up by paying more into that mission than any other group enjoying our public lands. While our commitment is unmatched, our differences of opinion can be as well. Past councils have overcome differences that have improved our public lands through historic increases in access, among other unifying objectives like establishing migration corridors. Interior’s current challenges, from predator management to defining conservation, require counsel and recommendations from a diverse group representing the many opinions of the hunter.
In March, the Federal Subsistence Board (FSB) took action on a temporary Wildlife Special Action (WSA21-01) that proposed to close the moose and caribou hunting season to anyone except qualified subsistence hunters from August 1st to September 30th, 2022, on two specific federal land units in Alaska. Although they did not vote to close the entire proposed area of units 23 and 26A, they modified the closure to include the Noatak National Preserve and BLM managed lands between the Noatak and Kobuk rivers in unit 23 for caribou hunting. For moose, they closed federal public lands in GMU 23. SCI’s intervention in June and November of 2021 delayed these actions. However, unelected bureaucrats are usurping the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s power to oversee sustainable wildlife management within its state borders.
Unfortunately, the Biden Administration has also begun negotiating with anti-hunting groups over public land hunting. In late 2021, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) filed a suit challenging a 2020 FWS rule that opened and expanded over 850 hunting and fishing opportunities across more than 2.3 million acres at 147 national wildlife refuges and national fish hatcheries across the country. CBD alleged that hunting on these public lands threatens endangered species by increasing the number of people on the landscape, with lead poisoning, and because hunters mistakenly shoot endangered species.
CBD and the FWS have announced they are discussing a possible settlement. SCI and its partners are preparing to join the case to defend the rule and discourage the settlement of CBD’s erroneous and unsubstantiated claims. SCI and its members provided extensive public comments on the proposed hunting opportunities in 2020. They confirmed that the rule satisfies all applicable laws and advances the purposes of the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act, which requires the FWS to open hunting and fishing on refuges where compatible with conservation. Hunting contributes significantly to conservation in the National Wildlife Refuge System.
There is some good news at the federal level; SCI recently joined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in celebrating the recent announcement of a record $1.5 billion in annual funding through the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration (WSFR) Program. This program will support state and local outdoor recreational opportunities, wildlife and habitat conservation efforts, and hunting and fishing education.
“The record-breaking grants through the WSFR will fund a remarkable number of conservation efforts and programs that benefit our country’s wildlife species and the hunting community,” said SCI CEO W. Laird Hamberlin. “Safari Club International looks forward to participating in the good work of these funds as they are allocated towards high priority issues for the sporting community such as supporting additional efforts to protect habitats and promoting hunting education.”
While the Biden Administration refuses to commit to No-Net-Loss, SCI is active on the frontlines and behind the scenes to ensure we maintain or expand access for sportsmen and women across the country.
SCI is fighting against draconian international hunting and trophy bans at the international level. For example, the animal rights initiative that has taken hold in the UK threatens to manifest into a ban on the import of thousands of species, regardless of benefits to conservation, local community governance, or sustainability, and with particularly devastating effects on Africa. Not only is beating back these trophy bans imperative for species conservation and the livelihoods of rural communities, but it also is critical to the issue of access. Without the financial structure provided by hunting tourism, there is no funding to conserve large land areas in the continent’s remotest regions.
SCI believes that sound science-based conservation involving hunting as the primary management tool while maximizing opportunities for all huntable species is necessary for the long-term health of wildlife. Hunting provides the financial and management resources needed to conserve various species and habitats around the world. Increasing access to hunters increases the long-term sustainability of wildlife and wild places, and we are leading that fight. Thank you, SCI members and advocates who have helped, whether through joining as a member, signing petitions, contacting elected officials, or otherwise becoming active in our organization. SCI is steadfast in upholding our mission of being First for Hunters at the state, federal, and international levels.
Stand with SCI, and let Congressmen and Senators know with SCI’s “What We Stand For” petition: https://act.safariclub. org/gvrksj7.