Aug 31, 2023
Advocacy: 30x30 initiative, pintail model requests and ammunition/gun tax updates
By Mark Hennelly, Vice President for Advocacy
Presented by Federal Premium® Ammunition
(Originally published in the Fall 2023 issue of California Waterfowl.)
California’s 30x30 initiative: How will it ultimately be implemented?
As the California Natural Resources Agency continues to work on Governor Newsom’s 30x30 initiative — which is intended to “conserve” 30% of the state’s land and waters by 2030 — questions continue to swirl about what exactly that will mean for hunters, game species and private landowners who manage much of the best wildlife habitat.
CWA and a number of other stakeholders were selected by the Resources Agency to provide input for the strategy to help guide and implement 30x30, and, until recently, CWA was part of a partnership coordination team to help educate the general public about it.
CWA appreciated the efforts of the administration to include our perspective as a sportsmen-based organization that not only restores and enhances wildlife habitat, but also strives to increase public access and opportunity for hunting and the outdoors. We were initially the only organization included that represented the interests of hunters.
Our main goals and objectives throughout this process have been to ensure 30x30 would 1) not result in any more closures of public lands to hunting, and 2) rely mostly on incentive-based and voluntary programs in order to protect land.
Fortunately, as we requested, “conserve” was defined in such a way that wildlife-dependent recreation, such as hunting and fishing, could still be allowed. (In fact, in addition to protecting land and water, 30x30 seeks to increase greater public access to the outdoors for all Californians.) That’s not to say a closure from 30x30 could never happen, but that it would likely be uncommon. And if some closures do happen, they are expected to be through the expansion of new Marine Protected Areas along the California coast.
30x30 will also use conservation easements and other voluntary, non-regulatory strategies to protect land in a durable way to sustain functional ecosystems, so that property can stay under private ownership and still allow for active management and outdoor recreation like hunting and fishing. In fact, duck clubs that currently have state or federal conservation easements on them are considered to be contributing toward the 30% conserved goal.
But 30x30 will also maintain the option to rely on traditional fee-title acquisition of land from willing landowners, meaning new state lands may be acquired if sufficient public funding is provided. And some of these, especially those managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, may be opened to new hunting and fishing opportunities.
It should be noted that even before Governor Newsom formally started the 30x30 process, CWA and other hunting and fishing groups had requested that the state consider all the existing public lands owned by natural resource-related agencies (including federal lands like those under the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service) and public waters as counting toward the 30% conserved goal.
However, it appears as if California has taken a much more conservative approach to what already counts toward its 30% goal, as it considers only 24.41% of lands and 16.23% of waters as currently meeting its criteria. So, expect significant efforts by the state in the next seven years to meet its 30% objective of conserved lands and waters. This could mean more and higher quality wildlife habitat protected from development and other incompatible uses. It could also mean a net benefit in terms of more public hunting opportunities, but only if implemented appropriately. And it could also mean some restrictions for the sake of “preservation,” not “conservation.” We will be watching closely and advocating only for changes that have a net benefit for sportsmen.
For more information about 30x30 and updates on the state’s progress toward meeting its conservation goals, please visit californianature.ca.gov.
CWA and other Pacific Flyway waterfowl associations pen letter to USFWS on pintail limits
In anticipation of a draft pintail model being released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) this fall as part of the long-awaited pintail harvest strategy revision, CWA and several other state waterfowl associations within the Pacific Flyway have asked that the model include certain elements to help ensure it promotes expanded hunter opportunity, to the extent possible.
The final model will determine federal frameworks used by the states for pintail seasons and bag limits. CWA has repeatedly asked the USFWS for the new model to allow hunters to take three or more pintails per day in years where sufficient pintail populations allow it.
Our letter — which was also signed by representatives of the Oregon Duck Hunters Association, Nevada Waterfowl Association and Utah Waterfowl Association — requests that the new model recognize the following:
- The current Breeding Population Survey (BPOP) substantially underestimates the number of pintails. Using other analyses (i.e. Lincoln), the actual number is likely two to three times as large as the one derived from BPOP. Combined with the potential that the Harvest Information Program potentially overestimates harvest, when these two pieces of data are used to model population dynamics, harvest rate is severely overestimated.
- Lincoln estimates of numbers of males and females indicate that the current sex ratio in the pintail population is about three males per female (similar to the situation for mallards). Failure to account for excess males substantially reduces harvest opportunity, given that female abundance regulates duck populations. Given that few hunters regularly shoot a limit of ducks, it seems possible to return to a full seven-bird pintail bag, with a limit of one hen, similar to the way mallards have been managed. This approach has the added benefit of helping to return the population to a balanced sex ratio. One could argue this approach would actually benefit the pintail population because excess males are potentially interfering with female foraging, nutrient storage and nesting activities, thereby reducing productivity.
- Past models did not account for highly variable conditions on breeding areas and the potential that demographic rates are more strongly driven by variation in recruitment and predation risk by breeding females than by harvest.
- Past models assumed that harvest was fully additive. Recent work with mallards and blue-winged teal has shown that current approaches to assessing harvest effects on annual survival dramatically overestimate the effects of harvest. There is strong evidence of density-dependent effects on natural mortality in recent work that is driving these spurious relationships between harvest and survival, but such density-dependent effects have not been appropriately incorporated into past harvest management models.
Our letter also requests that entities outside the USFWS be given an opportunity to comment and provide input on the draft model once it is released. We believe that outside peer review, including by representatives of traditional stakeholders like waterfowl hunters, is critical.
CWA will be in Washington, D.C., in mid-September to meet with representatives of the USFWS’s Migratory Bird Program to further discuss our recommendations and the USFWS’s progress in developing a draft model.
Ammunition and gun tax continues to advance
CWA continues to work with other hunting and gun groups, as well as our allies at the state Capitol, to oppose AB 28 (Jesse Gabriel, D-Woodland Hills), which would impose an additional 11% excise tax on all firearms and ammunition purchases to support gun violence-related programs.
In our testimony before the Senate Public Safety Committee in July, CWA pointed out that AB 28 would double the excise tax paid by hunters and other lawabiding shooters, effectively raising the total state, federal and local tax rate on firearms and ammunition to nearly 30%.
Lawful hunters and recreational shooters already pay an 11% excise tax on hunting equipment pursuant to the federal Pittman-Robertson Act (PR). Those dollars are allocated back to states to fund beneficial programs, including wildlife habitat projects that benefit game and non-game species. Each year, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is allocated about $30 million in federal PR dollars that fund a large portion of our state’s wildlife management, conservation and research efforts.
By substantially raising the cost of guns and ammunition, AB 28 creates a major disincentive for hunters and other sportsmen to financially contribute to wildlife conservation projects funded with PR dollars. The higher taxes would also disproportionately impact low-income Californians and thus equitable access to hunting and the shooting sports — at a time when the state is seeking to increase participation in outdoor recreation via the Governor's 30x30 initiative, too.
AB 28 also unjustifiably places the burden of funding programs to address illegal gun violence solely on the backs of citizens who legally purchase and lawfully use firearms and ammunition, rather than the general public which benefits from such programs.
AB 28 is currently in the Senate Appropriations Committee. Because it is a tax measure, it requires a two-thirds vote on the floor of each legislative house. While that fact prevented similar gun and ammunition tax measures in the past from being approved, the current supermajority of Democrats in both houses changes that dynamic and improves AB 28’s chances of passing.