https://www.rmef.org/elk-network/april-may-2024-advocacy-update/

State Updates

Oregon 

Over 200 RMEF members submitted recommendations to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission as it considered finalists for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife director position. The members encouraged the selection of a leader who understands and embraces the North American Model of Wildlife Management, including an appreciation for the role that hunters and anglers play in the social and economic success of the agency, as well as a leader who understands and is guided by the scientific research and data that sustains healthy populations of game and nongame wildlife. In the end the commission voted unanimously to select ODFW veteran Dr. Debbie Colbert, who by all accounts meets the criteria sought by RMEF.

Kentucky

Senator Robin Webb was selected as the recipient of the RMEF Excellence in Advocacy Award at a ceremony in April. Senator Webb played a key role in securing the permanent establishment of the 55,000-acre Ataya-Cumberland Forest Wildlife Management Area in the heart of Kentucky’s elk zone and has advocated for sportsmen and women in Kentucky and nationally through leadership of the National Association of Sportsmen’s Caucuses and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation.

In May, RMEF submitted official comments supporting a vegetation management project in the Daniel Boone National Forest, and RMEF members submitted additional comments by participating in an RMEF call-to-action. Environmental activists and old-growth proponents oppose the project to create forest openings and mixed age forests that will benefit elk, rugged grouse and other wildlife that depend on early seral forests.

Colorado

The Colorado session ended May 8, and as this piece was going to press some bills had not yet been signed or vetoed by the governor.

When introduced in January SB131 would have prohibited firearms on most state property including state wildlife areas. The bill was amended to apply only to legislative property (the Capitol), local government governing body offices (city council, county commissions) and courthouses. It passed and was sent to the Governor who is expected to sign it.

HB1292 was a new attempt to ban “assault weapons,” an effort ruled unconstitutional in the past. It was defeated in committee.

SB 171 authorizes the CPW to reintroduce wolverines but requires the state to receive flexibility from the feds through an Endangered Species Act 10j nonessential experimental population classification. RMEF has some concerns that environmental extremists will use the wolverine’s threatened status to block future forest management activity, but wolverines, as scavengers, are not of concern to elk and deer populations. The legislation went to the governor who is expected to sign it.

RMEF strongly supported SB126 to renew and expand conservation easement tax credits. RMEF staff testified twice before legislative committees and our contract lobbyists worked to protect this valuable private lands conservation tool. The bill passed and went to the governor.

SB26 was signed into law and will require Colorado Parks and Wildlife commissioners to meet with the stakeholder groups they are appointed to represent, including the commissioner who ostensibly represents “sportsmen.”

Two animal rights ballot measures for the city and county of Denver will be on the ballot this November. One will ban the sale of fur in Denver and the other will ban slaughterhouses. Both are being pushed by the same animal rights organization. The fur ban would impact sheared beaver felt cowboy hats as well as common fly-tying components.

HB1349 would drastically raise taxes on guns and ammunition in mockery of the Pittman-Robertson federal excise tax with most of the money dedicated to an amorphous victims fund. This bill was amended several times but was finally passed and will be on the November ballot since it constitutes a tax increase. The measure would create an added 6.5% tax on the retail sales of firearms, firearm precursor parts and ammunition.

 

FEDERAL 

Endangered Species Lawsuit

In April, the Center for Biological Diversity, Humane Society of the U.S. and other litigious activist organizations filed a lawsuit in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to put wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains back on the Endangered Species List. The federal judge accepted RMEF’s filing to intervene in the case along with Sportsmen’s Alliance and Safari Club International. RMEF attorneys will argue in defense of the science that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the states use to sustainable manage wolves.

Farm Bill

RMEF’s government affairs team spent more than a year working on reauthorization of the  Farm Bill by encouraging members of the U.S. House and Senate Agriculture Committees to include a targeted list of priorities that align with RMEF’s mission. After months of inaction, both the House and Senate committees recently released frameworks detailing the policies and priorities to be included in their respective versions of the Farm Bill. House Agriculture Committee Chairman GT Thompson announced a goal of passing the bill out of committee by Memorial Day.

RMEF commends the committees for taking this important first step and encourages both chambers to work collaboratively to pass a Farm Bill in the coming months that advances the interests of sportsmen and women.

Hunting groups like RMEF are focused on the Farm Bill because it contains the policies and funding for the majority of the private land conservation programs used by farmers and ranchers to protect habitat, as well as the programs that incentivize maintaining the intact, working private forestlands that support wildlife.

The Farm Bill expires every five years and is a massive legislative package comprising 12 titles that address a wide array of agriculture and conservation programs. RMEF is focused on its conservation and forestry titles. Row crop farmers and ranchers generally focus on the commodities, trade and crop insurance titles. The most expensive part of the bill is the “nutrition” title, which has grown sharply since the pandemic and is now estimated to be 82% of the $1.4 billion dollar baseline budget.

RMEF’s priorities for the conservation title include:

  • Authorization and adequate funding for a Forest Conservation Easement Program (FCEP) that prioritizes working forests and those managed for wildlife.
  • Reauthorization and expansion of the Voluntary Public Access Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP) that supports states’ private land, walk-in access programs.
  • Adequate funding for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) and encouraging their use for big game migratory corridor conservation and reforming eligibility requirements to increase landowner participation.

There are also several policy reforms that RMEF looks to include in the Farm Bill:

  • Expand existing authorities like the Good Neighbor Authority to incentivize and enable cross-boundary, active forest management projects through collaborative partnerships.
  • Streamline and expedite active forest management projects through reduced litigation, expanded categorical exclusions and reversing the Cottonwood

Both the House and Senate Agriculture committees look poised to mark up their Farm Bill versions in the coming weeks. While the initial frameworks appear promising, RMEF will continue to diligently advocate for wildlife conservation and sportsmen priorities.

 

The post April/May 2024 Advocacy Update appeared first on Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

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