Originally published in the Winter 2019 issue of California Waterfowl.
THE FINAL SCORE: Click here to see what happened with all the state bills CWA took a position on this year.
by MARK HENNELLY, VICE PRESIDENT FOR LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS AND PUBLIC POLICY
Surprise, surprise…2019 has proven once again to be a tough year for sportsmen and women in California.
The urban, one-party-dominated state Legislature overwhelmingly supported, and the governor signed into law, a bill banning bobcat hunting (AB 1254) and a bill banning most trapping, including recreational and commercial trapping (AB 273).
The author of the trapping ban, Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), is chair of the powerful Assembly Appropriations Committee. In that position, she also killed CWA-sponsored legislation (AB 284) to make permanent the junior hunting license age extension, which gives 16- and 17-year-olds a price cut on their licenses and validations while giving them access to special junior-only hunting opportunities.
God forbid we help kids participate in the outdoors! While there was some short-term fiscal impact of this legislation, a growing number of states and even the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now define youth hunters as those under 18 years of age, largely in an effort to recruit more hunters into our community and thus have more licenses and validations purchased over the long-term. California once again will be out of step with much of the rest of the country.
Besides creating even more barriers to hunting, both the trapping ban and bobcat hunting ban have no science to back them up – the species affected are all widespread and abundant, while current harvest levels have little or no impact on their populations. And the bills wrongly take authority away from wildlife professionals and the California Fish and Game Commission. They also ignore hunting and trapping’s longstanding use as a valid wildlife management tool.
CWA and a number of other hunting groups mentioned these and other facts in letters and testimony against these bills, but to no avail. Most members of the Legislature have never hunted or trapped, so it apparently didn’t trouble them.
Meanwhile, the ammunition background check requirement began July 1, which was also passed by the Legislature and voters in 2016. At the time, proponents refused to make any exceptions for licensed hunters or for ammunition commonly used in hunting, even though hunters are clearly not part of the gun-safety problem – in most years, there are no fatalities in California from hunting, and the few accidents that do occur involve only hunters, not the general public.
Adding insult to injury, detailed regulations for the ammunition background checks weren’t finalized until the week before they went into effect, ensuring that gun owners who were aware of the new law didn’t have time to get their documents in order to purchase ammunition. At the same time, the phase-in of the lead ammunition ban for hunting went into full effect, meaning for the first time, non-toxic ammunition is now required for dove, quail, snipe and preserve birds.
With two major changes going into effect at the same time, the results were predictable.
In July and August, a staggering 20% of ammunition purchase attempts were rejected. Of those, 42 purchasers were rejected because they weren’t legally allowed to possess ammunition – stopping those purchases was the goal of the law. But more than 31,000 were rejected for other reasons, such as their identification or address not matching their information in the state Department of Justice database, or they weren’t in that database because they hadn’t purchased a gun recently enough. That’s a ratio of 740 likely good guys stopped for every one bad guy stopped.
On top of that, many hunters had an extremely hard time finding non-toxic dove loads even if they could pass the background check. The result? By the eve of the dove opener, hunting license sales were down 5% and upland validation sales were down 7% compared with the same date last year, after remaining essentially flat for the previous seven years for the same period.
While anti-hunting legislation is certainly not a new phenomenon in California (there was a failed legislative effort to ban dove hunting in 2003 and, more recently, a successful one to prohibit the use of dogs to pursue bears and bobcats), what is different now is the tenor of the debate in the Legislature. Proponents, who have long misstated that hunting is cruel, detrimental to species’ survival, unsafe and unnecessary, are now increasingly arguing that aspects of hunting are simply inconsistent with “California values.” This canard was parroted verbatim by several legislators during the debate on this year’s bills, and it unfortunately seems to be gaining traction.
Now I am a lifelong Californian. Born and raised here, went to college here and never lived anywhere else but here. I have traveled to all 58 counties of the state for work, to see friends and family and for hunting and fishing trips, and have talked with many, many people along the way.
What I have heard most of my life – and especially in the halls of the state Capitol over the last 20 years—is that the Golden State is all about diversity, multiculturalism, respect for minority rights and tolerance for a wide array of lifestyles. That we are the land of inclusion and we celebrate our differences. That we should live and let live. That we should have the ability to choose.
These “California values” actually have their roots in the most basic, and arguably most important, American value: FREEDOM. As everyone knows, liberty was, and still is, at the core of the founding of this country. Government, as stated in the Declaration of Independence and preamble to the U.S. Constitution, was established to protect our natural rights and freedoms … not take them away.
“Freedom is not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature.”
– Benjamin Franklin, Maxims and Morals from Dr. Franklin, 1807
“It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case others.”
– Thomas Jefferson, letter to Benjamin Rush, 1803
“The truth is, all might be free if they valued freedom, and defended it as they ought.”
– Samuel Adams, article in the Boston Gazette, October 14, 1771
You can see where I am going with this: Is it not, then, height of hypocrisy to profess that you believe in Californian (or American) values that impart liberty, and then vote to restrict or take away certain freedoms that have been practiced and cherished by hundreds of thousands of Californians and their families for generations? Our way of life as hunters – our rural culture if you will – rightly deserves to be as protected as any other.
And please don’t tell me that hunting is different because it involves wildlife resources that are owned by all Californians, not just hunters. Hunters have long been paying, and continue to pay, more than their fair share for wildlife conservation work through annual license, stamp, tag and other hunting validation fees as well as Pittman-Robertson excise taxes on guns, ammunition and other sporting equipment.
Most hunters also spend considerable amounts of money each year supporting hunting-related non-profits like CWA, Ducks Unlimited, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, National Wildlife Turkey Federation and California Deer Association, with much of the proceeds benefitting conservation.
It is this funding, which is chiefly used to protect and manage habitat (by far the most important factor affecting wildlife populations), coupled with science-based management by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, that has ensured that hunting is sustainable.
In fact, most hunted species’ numbers are either increasing or even overabundant in California. But the habitat provided through hunting also appropriately benefits all species, not just game. Yes, wildlife is a public resource, but clearly the hunting community has been a responsible steward. We give back far more than we take, and it’s been that way for a century now.
Our “pursuit of happiness” is hunting. You don’t have to do it yourself or even like it, but at least take the time to develop a basic understanding of the facts instead of swallowing anti-hunting rhetoric whole.
And, unless you want to leave yourself open to others taking away the freedoms you personally enjoy in the future, don’t support efforts to take it away from us.