Nov 30, 2023

Advocacy: DFW lands regulations package, hunt ban petition, AB 28 update and request for more hunts at San Joaquin

By Mark Hennelly, Vice President for Advocacy

Presented by Federal Premium® Ammunition

(Originally published in the Winter 2023 issue of California Waterfowl)


CWA supports DFW lands regulations package

At the October 11th California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) meeting in San Diego, California Waterfowl endorsed a package of regulations that would increase and enhance public hunting opportunities at California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) wildlife areas and ecological reserves.

Specifically, the regulatory package includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Adding new valley quail hunting opportunities at the Upper Butte Basin Wildlife Area in Butte County
  • Allowing boats with electric motors to be used during the waterfowl hunting season at the Lake Earl Wildlife Area in Del Norte County
  • Adding the El Dorado Wildlife Area (Type C) in El Dorado County and Peace Valley Ecological Area in Los Angeles County to the list of public lands available for public hunting
  • Prohibiting entry permits from being issued after 3 p.m. at all Type A and B areas during waterfowl season
  • Adding new deer and valley quail hunting opportunities at the Los Banos and North Grasslands Wildlife Areas in Merced County
  • Creating new hunting opportunities at the Chorro Creek (San Luis Obispo County), Burton Mesa (Santa Barbara County), Boulder Creek/Rutherford Ranch (San Diego County) and Boden Canyon (San Diego County) Ecological Reserves

Other proposed changes affect the use of bicycles, horseback riding, dog training and other public uses at various wildlife areas. However, most of these target the general public and do not adversely impact hunting opportunities. The proposed regulatory changes are consistent with a 2012 CWA-sponsored bill, Senate Bill 1249 (Lois Wolk, D-Davis), that was signed into law to establish hunting as a priority public use of state wildlife areas. That law additionally requires non-consumptive recreational users who do not have a valid hunting or fishing license to purchase a lands permit to support the operation of those areas.

If ultimately approved by the Commission, the proposed new lands regulations would take effect for the 2024-25 hunting season.

F&G Commission rejects Benicia hunt ban petition

The Fish and Game Commission also finally denied a petition by local Benicia residents — which was supported by the Benicia City Council — to ban waterfowl hunting on Southampton Bay. The residents claimed that hunting posed a public safety threat and was not an appropriate use of the Bay.

At the October 11 hearing in San Jose, CWA rebutted the local residents’ arguments by pointing out that there had been no hunting accidents reported within the Bay or other evidence of legitimate public safety issues. We also urged the Commission not to give into irrational fear or anti-hunting sentiments. Doing so would only encourage other local cities and counties throughout California to request that other navigable waters like bays, rivers and sloughs be offlimits to hunting.

Previously, CWA reminded the Commission that hunting is an integral part of the state constitutional right to use navigable waters, and thus can only be restricted there for legitimate public purposes.

The Commission did approve of examining options for reducing noise from discharging firearms when hunting on Southampton Bay, including examining existing time restrictions on hunting in Morro Bay. This will be developed through input to the Commission's Wildlife Resources Committee. CWA will actively participate in these discussions.

CWA thanks all of the users of our VoterVoice grassroots advocacy system who contacted the Commission to oppose the Benicia hunt ban petition.

Ammo and gun tax signed by governor, but ultimate outcome far from settled

In September, AB 28 (Jesse Gabriel, D-Woodland Hills) narrowly passed the Senate floor and was then signed by Governor Newsom. The new law places an 11% excise tax on the sale of all firearms and ammunition to pay for a host of gun violence prevention and related programs.

California Waterfowl and other hunting and gun groups fought against this and other gun tax proposals for many years in various state bills. We believe it effectively requires law-abiding gun owners to pay for the irresponsible or criminal acts of others, and, considering the existing high cost of firearms and ammunition, is a significant financial disincentive for members of the public to participate in hunting and other recreational shooting activities. It should also be noted that, unlike the existing excise taxes under the federal Pittman-Robertson Act, AB 28 does nothing to support wildlife conservation efforts.

Senator Melissa Hurtado (D-Bakersfield), who had previously indicated she would not support AB 28, unexpectedly cast the deciding vote on the Senate floor. Hurtado is currently running for the U.S. House of Representatives in an attempt to represent the 22nd Congressional District.

Fortunately, the California Rifle and Pistol Association and other Second Amendment groups are planning a lawsuit(s) for when AB 28 takes effect on July 1, 2024. In addition, a statewide anti-tax initiative has qualified for the November 2024 ballot, which would retroactively apply to AB 28 if approved by a majority of voters. That initiative would effectively require all state tax measures to not only be approved by a two-thirds vote of each house of the state Legislature, but also a majority of voters on the statewide ballot.

CWA requests more hunt opportunities on San Joaquin NWR Complex

California Waterfowl recently provided written comments on the draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which will guide public use for the refuges within the Complex for at least a 15-year period.

Our comments focused on the ongoing need for more public hunting opportunities in California, especially for waterfowl. Declining hunter quotas, delayed flooding of wetlands, water conveyance problems, conversion of free roam areas to blinds or assigned ponds, and other factors have all contributed to reduced hunter access. As evidence, we pointed to DFW’s reports regarding reservation odds statistics for Type A and B wildlife areas and refuges, which show that the chances of being drawn for a hunt have become significantly more difficult over the last 20 years.

We also noted that since the early 1990s, relatively few new public wetlands have been opened up for waterfowl hunting, especially in the Central Valley and Southern California. Other areas, such as the Klamath Basin, have seen a significant loss of wetland habitat available for public hunting.

CWA also met with San Luis National Wildlife Refuge Complex staff in person to discuss options for increasing hunting opportunity, such as opening the Snowbird Unit of the Merced National Wildlife Refuge, which could especially provide new goose hunting access. We also reiterated our longstanding request to open the 7,500-acre San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge to waterfowl and upland gamebird hunting. While the existing Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the refuge calls for a hunt program and allows other public access, hunting is currently not allowed.