First For Hunters Blog

Washington Report

May 24, 2017

A steady rain couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the Safari Club International (SCI) members and leadership who gathered in Washington to conduct more than 100 meetings with Members of Congress and their staff members.  Lobby Day is a traditional part of SCI’s May board meeting, and SCI’s 200 chapters were well represented by the attendees.  Before heading up to Capitol Hill, the state delegations heard from a series of guest speakers and were briefed over breakfast to prepare them to talk to their legislators about issues of significance to the hunting and conservation community.  

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was originally scheduled to deliver remarks, but he was called out of town for official business related to President Trump’s executive order requiring a study of monuments created under the Antiquities Act.  More on this later.  

The Secretary sent two excellent representatives from the Department of the Interior to take his place at the SCI gathering.  The audience heard first from Aurelia Skipwith, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks.  She immediately won over the crowd by stating that during the Trump Administration, the Interior Department intended to base its policy decisions on sound science, the rule of law, and common sense.  She gave an overview of the Interior Department agencies that are tasked with managing our public lands, and noted that the new administration would prioritize access, multiple use, and conservation as their core principles.  And she expressed a common theme by thanking the attendees for coming to Washington to make their voices heard, saying “everyone has an opinion.  If you don’t tell them yours, someone else will take your place.” 

The second speaker from the Interior Department was Marshall Critchfield.  He serves as Special Assistant to Secretary Zinke for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.  His time with the Trump administration originated on the campaign trail, and after Election Day he was asked if he wanted to come work in D.C.  A lifelong sportsman, he replied by saying “Only in the Interior Department,” and that’s how he began the journey to his post.  He noted that the actions undertaken in the brief weeks since Zinke’s confirmation had already made the Department the most sportsmen-friendly in a generation, and noted that he was dedicating himself personally to pursuing greater land access for sportsmen across the many agencies that constitute the Department. 

Both of the Interior officials exuded a palpable pride at serving in the Trump Administration, and a clear sense of purpose in fulfilling their respective missions at Interior.  They also both spoke from a clear base of knowledge of the importance of hunting in conservation.  It was obvious to the assembled group of SCI members that Secretary Zinke has already surrounded himself with confident, competent appointees who share the Secretary’s vision, and that hunters will have a voice in any decision that Interior will face.  And it was obvious that both speakers understood the value that SCI brings to the table in helping them to execute their missions.    

The third and final speaker was Senator Mike Rounds, Republican from South Dakota.  The Senator discarded his prepared remarks and instead delivered an off-the-cuff summary of the first few months of the Trump era from the Senate perspective.  The Senator talked about the prospects for healthcare reform and tax reform legislation in the Senate.  He outlined the progress that Congress has made in rolling back burdensome regulations from the Obama era.  He echoed the first speaker by thanking the audience for coming to Washington, saying “If you’re not here, someone else will be.  And things get done when people show up.”  He provided a perfect segue to the rest of the issue briefing by offering criticism of the Endangered Species Act, which he summarized by saying “It’s just not working out.” 

The issue briefing resumed after the guest speakers had finished their remarks.  SCI members were prepared to address three broad subjects:  Supporting the Sportsmen’s Act, amending the Antiquities Act, and modernizing and improving the Endangered Species Act.

S.733, the bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act, was introduced earlier this year by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). The bill is sponsored by members from both sides of the aisle who are working together to protect and enhance opportunities for recreational hunting, fishing, and shooting across the United States.

This bill would confirm that U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands are open to hunting unless expressly closed, and it increases procedural requirements for any closure. The bill directs the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), National Park Service (NPS), USFS, and BLM to identify and recommend solutions to address lands with restricted or limited access to hunting. The legislation also provides clarification that the NPS should use qualified volunteers from the hunting community to assist in the reduction of wildlife overpopulations.  SCI supports S.733 as an excellent foundation for comprehensive legislation to address many issues of interest to the hunting community.

Amending the Antiquities Act

SCI is proud to support S.33, the Improved National Monument Designation Process Act.  This legislation complements the Executive Order signed by President Trump on April 26, 2017, which called for a review of designations under the Antiquities Act. This bill removes the unilateral power to designate monuments that the Antiquities Act of 1906 granted to U.S. presidents.

S.33 would require Congressional approval for any proposed National Monument, compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, and state legislative approval of the designation by each state in which the proposed monument is located.  This bill will prevent anti-hunting groups from unduly influencing presidents to make decisions on monuments based on emotion rather than science.

SCI is proud to support S.33 and hopes to also see legislation like S.3460, the Local Community and Sportsmen Input in Monuments Act, introduced in the last Congress by Senator Steve Daines (R-MT). That bill expressly required the involvement of state game and fish agencies in any Monument planning decisions that could affect their ability to manage state wildlife and protected hunters from losing valued hunting opportunities due to National Monument designations and administrative transfers from one agency to another. We hope to see similar legislative language in this legislative session.

Modernizing and Improving the Endangered Species Act

Since the 1973 passage of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), success in the recovery and conservation of species has been hindered by significant flaws in the legislation.  Though there are no bills yet introduced in the current Congress that comprehensively address all the problems that the ESA poses for hunting and sustainable use conservation, SCI members were charged with discussing goals for potential future legislation to improve the ESA. 

During the 115th Congress, SCI hopes to see legislation that amends listing obligations under the ESA to provide that the FWS cannot list a species without strong scientific support that an ESA listing will benefit species conservation efforts. We also hope to see legislation increasing the role states play in species listings, recognizing hunting as a conservation strategy, limiting FWS authority over foreign species listings, and establishing defined delisting requirements.

With these three broad legislative goals in mind, the SCI state delegations set off to Capitol Hill for their daylong series of meetings.  The SCI members were warmly welcomed all over Capitol Hill, and scores of legislative offices received briefings on SCI’s key issues as well as SCI’s role as an advocate for the hunting community.

The legislators and their key staff people had much to share with the participants of Lobby Day, including their frustration that the Democratic Party’s opposition to the Trump Administration is so vehement and unfocused that even the most qualified of appointees are being pointlessly delayed by  obstructionist tactics.  As a case in point, the two Department of Interior appointees who spoke at the SCI breakfast had been on the job for precisely three weeks, and they were only two of thirty that are needed to completely fill the Department’s top ranks.  The Democrats’ relentless efforts to stall President Trump’s progress applies to the legislative agenda we support as well. 

Anti-hunting groups are well represented among the agitated leftists who are energized, organized, and committed to throwing sand in the gears of progress.  Now is a good time for all SCI members to contact their two U.S. Senators, express support for the legislative issues above, and urge the Senators to expeditiously approve the President’s nominees.  You can find your Senators’ contact info at www.senate.gov.  Rest assured the opposition is being heard – and now it’s our turn to make sure that the collective voice of hunters is heard as well, just as our guest speakers urged us to do. 

Another Lobby Day went into the history books – but for the first time in eight years, there was hope for tremendous progress on our legislative and regulatory agenda.  The rain continued to fall all day, but despite the gloomy weather, SCI’s Lobby Day attendees could finally see some pro-hunting light coming through the clouds.