May 24, 2023

Advocacy: Seasons and bag limits, council recommendations, gun control bills and more

By Mark Hennelly, Vice President for Advocacy 

Presented by Federal Premium® Ammunition

(Originally published in the Summer 2023 issue of California Waterfowl.)

2023-24 waterfowl seasons and bag limits set

The California Fish and Game Commission met in April and approved the regulations for the 2023-24 waterfowl season. CWA has been actively involved with the waterfowl regulatory process for this upcoming season, which began in September of 2022.

The regulations will be similar to what was provided last season, with the notable exception of changes to:

  1. The Aleutian goose season dates on the North Coast that allow for a split season beginning the first week of October (Oct. 7-Dec. 22) and then restarting in February (Feb. 12-March 10). This was supported by local hunters, landowners and CWA.
  2. Black brant regulations that necessarily reduce that season length by 10 days due to recent lower-than-normal black brant counts. Northern brant season is Nov. 18-Dec. 14, and Balance of State brant season is Nov. 19-Dec. 15.

Earlier, there had been a proposal to move Veterans and Active Military Personnel Hunting Days to coincide with Youth Hunting Days. CWA and a number of hunters opposed this change due to its impact on youth hunters, especially those who rely on public refuges and wildlife areas that can, at times, receive significant public use.

CWA’s Regulations and Traditions Committee will meet in August with the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) to discuss the Veterans/Active Military Duty hunt timing, with the goals of increasing hunter participation and reducing any potential disturbance to breeding waterfowl.

On another note, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) still plans on having a draft model available in the fall of 2023 for determining pintail seasons and bag limits. CWA has consistently urged the USFWS to include a three-bird bag limit option as part of this revised management strategy. The USFWS has stated that the draft model will be put out to public comment so that non-governmental organizations like CWA, Delta Waterfowl and Ducks Unlimited will have an opportunity to review it and provide input prior to it being finalized.

Federal Hunting and Wildlife Conservation Council meets

The federal Hunting and Wildlife Conservation Council, which makes recommendations to the president’s administration on issues that impact hunting and wildlife conservation efforts, recently met in Washington, D.C. The Council — which CWA was fortunate to be appointed to, albeit as a non-voting member — includes about 30 national and regional hunting and sportsmen’s groups.

CWA is urging the Council to support a number of recommendations, most notably the following:

1. Increase Migratory Bird Program funding.

The USFWS Migratory Bird Program’s budget has remained relatively static for the last 12 years, with an effective loss of about $6 million in purchasing power. This, along with increased responsibilities and workload, has left the program unable to complete scientific gathering and modeling related to hunting regulations in a timely manner. For example, the USFWS has been unable to complete the northern pintail adaptive harvest management revision necessary for modifying pintail bag limits, which was supposed to be done several years ago.

The USFWS has also suggested that annual May pond count surveys for waterfowl that have been conducted since 1955 may only be carried out once every two to three years moving forward, due to lack of sufficient resources. This loss of waterfowl population data could then leave hunting frameworks more vulnerable to legal challenges from anti-hunting groups.

The Biden administration and Congress should ensure that the Migratory Bird Program receives additional annual funding so that it can adequately carry out all of its responsibilities in a timely manner, including scientific research to support migratory bird hunting regulations.

2. Allow annual hunter input on refuge hunt programs.

Currently, some national wildlife refuge managers give hunters the opportunity to provide formal input on their public hunt programs, but not all refuge managers do this despite a desire by many hunters for such an opportunity.

In California, state law originally sponsored by CWA requires DFW to annually give hunters the chance to provide feedback on hunt programs and habitat conditions on DFW’s waterfowl management areas. This is typically done through a public meeting (many are now virtual), but can also be accomplished through hunter surveys or other input.

Hunter participation in these meetings is generally good, and the information exchange has not only helped improve the quality of the public hunt programs, but also allowed DFW to educate hunters about the challenges it faces in managing its lands due to budget, operations and more.

The USFWS should require refuge managers who administer a hunt program to annually provide an opportunity for hunters to comment on that program, such as through a public meeting.

These two CWA recommendations were discussed at the Council’s April meeting and didn’t receive any opposition; thus, the Council will hopefully vote later this year to send letters to respective decision- makers within the Department of Interior requesting that they act on them. To learn more about the Council and its work, click here.

More gun control bills considered at the Capitol

Several gun bills that would adversely impact hunters, target shooters and other legal gun owners were heard in the State Legislature in April.

AB 28 (Jesse Gabriel, D-Woodland Hills) would impose an 11% tax on firearms and ammunition — closely mirroring the federal Pittman-Robertson Act — to fund the “Gun Violence Prevention, Healing and Recovery Act.” This bill is very similar to several failed gun and ammunition taxes proposed in the Legislature in the last several years.

CWA testified against this measure at its first hearing in the Assembly Public Safety Committee. CWA views AB 28 as a disincentive to hunt, especially for new and prospective hunters, and inconsistent with hunting recruitment, retention and reactivation (R3) efforts. In our view, it’s also outrageous for licensed hunters and other legal gun owners to be required to pay for the effects of criminal or negligent use of firearms.

AB 28 passed its hearing on a partisan 6-2 vote and currently awaits consideration in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

SB 368 (Anthony Portantino, D-Burbank) would not only make changes to the requirements of licensed firearm dealers but also prohibit the raffling of handguns. CWA expressed opposition to the handgun raffle ban provision, which would negatively impact the fundraising of many nonprofit hunting and conservation groups. Fortunately, due to our and other sporting organizations’ concerns, this provision was removed in the Senate Appropriations Committee, where the bill currently sits.

SB 8 (Catherine Blakespear, D-Encinitas) would require all gun owners to secure liability insurance. CWA strongly opposes this bill and believes it would make it prohibitively expensive or a disincentive for many people to hunt and target shoot, especially low-income Californians.

Owning a firearm is an individual right per the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, and no right should be conditioned on the ability to pay for or obtain insurance. In addition, no other state requires insurance to own a gun. Meanwhile, possessing or using a firearm is already difficult in California due to the myriad of existing state and local gun control regulations.

Fortunately, SB 8 was never voted upon in its first policy committee hearing and was instead made into a “two-year bill,” so this likely won’t be heard again until 2024.

CWA hosts legislative wetlands tour

In March, CWA hosted a tour of Sacramento Valley wetlands and waterfowl habitat areas for state legislators and their staff. The event, which was attended by about 30 participants, included stops at Gray Lodge Wildlife Area, a private duck club and a rice farming operation.

The purpose of the event was to educate legislators and other decision-makers about wetland and waterfowl conservation issues, including managed wetland maintenance costs; water delivery challenges; the use of science in managing waterfowl populations; the role of duck clubs, rice farming and other private landowners in providing habitat; and local waterfowl breeding nest cover and brood water needs. We also discussed the value of hunting in providing funding streams for wildlife conservation efforts as well as managing waterfowl populations.

CWA thanks our other Central Valley Joint Venture Partners for their valued assistance with the event, including Ducks Unlimited, Grassland Water District, California Rice Commission, California Audubon, Defenders of Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. We also appreciate the efforts of Montna Farms, Bird Haven Ranch and Gray Lodge Wildlife Area in hosting the tour.

The wetlands tour was also coordinated through the California Legislature Outdoor Sporting Caucus, a bipartisan, bicameral caucus of 25 current senators and assembly members that helps educate California State Legislative members about hunting, fishing and wildlife conservation issues. To learn more, click here

SGMA bill postponed

An important state bill for wetland conservation interests supported by CWA, AB 828 (Damon Connolly, D-San Rafael), would provide an exemption for certain managed wetlands from the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) from its pumping restrictions and fees. SGMA implementation, which is being phased in through the year 2040, particularly threatens water deliveries to duck clubs in the Tulare Basin, where managed wetlands rely almost wholly on groundwater. SGMA also threatens managed wetlands in other parts of the state that overlie groundwater basins that have been deemed overdrafted.

Due in part to opposition from some agricultural interests, AB 828 has been made a “two-year bill” and will not be heard until 2024.