SCI is the only pro-hunting organization with an office in Washington, D.C. that has full-time policy experts, in-house legal counsel and on-staff dedicated to protecting hunting everywhere.
SCI monitors, evaluates and lobbies on federal legislation impacting hunting, hunters and wildlife conservation. SCI ensures that hunting interests are at the forefront when important bills come up by building relationships with Congressional leaders as well as staying current on the issues.
Each year in May, SCI hosts Lobby Day where SCI members from all around the country come to Washington, D.C. for personal meetings with Senators, Representatives and their staffs. During these important lobbying opportunities, SCI members share SCI’s positions on key pieces of legislation. These visits also provide SCI members with an opportunity to highlight the organization, its achievements and assets. SCI’s Washington, D.C. hunter advocacy staff provide federal legislators with information about SCI’s concerns and interests throughout the year.
On The Issues
Sportsmen and women in many states are seeing increased encroachments on their hunting rights and are turning to state constitutions to ensure their outdoor heritage will continue for future generations. Increased urbanization, decreased habitat, and more restrictions on hunting are common factors in the pursuit to proclaim the right to hunt and fish in a state's constitution. Closure of lands that have been historically open to sportsmen and women, increased development of farmland and forests, and pressure from non-hunters have decreased available land and opportunities for sportsmen and women to harvest game and fish.
Well-organized anti-hunting groups are attacking America’s outdoor heritage in state legislatures. Limitations on methods, seasons, and bag limits for certain game species have provoked many hunter advocacy groups, including Safari Club International, to increase lobbying to guarantee hunting and fishing as a right.
Current Constitutional Right to Hunt and Fish States
Twenty-one state constitutions guarantee the right to hunt and fish, with 17 of those provisions approved by the voters. While Vermont's language dates back to 1777, the rest of these constitutional provisions—in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming—have passed since 1996.
California and Rhode Island have language in their respective constitutions guaranteeing the right to fish, but not to hunt. Advocates also consider Alaska’s constitutional language—“Wherever occurring in their natural state, fish, wildlife, and waters are reserved to the people for common use”—as meeting the test because of its strong caselaw history.
- In 2016, voters in Indiana and Kansas approved ballot initiatives amending their respective state constitution to include the right to hunt and fish.
- Nevada passed language to amend its constitution to include the right to hunt and fish in 2015, but the language will not be effective until passed by the 2017 Legislature and approved by voters at the 2018 General Election.
- Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Missouri, North Carolina, West Virginia introduced legislation on this issue in 2016, but they were not passed.
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was enacted by Congress in 1973 to save imperiled species from extinction. The law gives the Secretary of the Interior authority to classify domestic and foreign species as ‘endangered’ or ‘threatened;’ designate critical habitat for federally listed species; prohibit the hunting of domestic endangered species; and place restrictions on the importation of foreign listed species. Over time, it has become obvious that the ESA is not the panacea it was intended by Congress to be. The benefits of the law have been outweighed by its flaws and ambiguities in its language have given animal rights proponents ammunition, via the ESA, to thwart sustainable use conservation.
Courts, rather than scientific experts, are making many of the decisions that dictate whether a species has recovered or requires federal protection. Delisting of recovered species in particular has been almost impossible as courts impose their own obstacles to the FWS’s ability to recognize and reward efforts that result in a species’ recovery. Over five decades of litigation has proven that the law is in dire need of revision and modernization. SCI is fighting to promote the principle that once a species no longer meets the ESA’s requirements for classification as endangered or threatened, the species should be removed from federal lists and returned to state management authority.
Since 1973, more than 1,500 species have been listed as endangered or threatened under the law, yet only 23 species have been delisted. This translates into a recovery rate of just one percent, even though many of the listed species have rebounded.
SCI has led or assisted litigation efforts over many years to help delist recovered species. Hunters, wildlife conservationists, and State-based land and wildlife managers have all played a significant role in recovery efforts and their contributions are worth defending in court. Litigation efforts are not sufficient. The law needs to be corrected so that recovery is rewarded with delisting.
Proposed improvements to the law in Congress are, in many cases, welcome and any changes that emphasize or facilitate the positive contribution of hunting as a tool of science-based wildlife conservation deserve support. Below are a few examples of the kinds of ESA modernizations efforts SCI has or is supporting in Congress:
- Bipartisan legislation directing the Secretary of the Interior to reissue the 2011 rule to delist the Western Great Lakes gray wolf population. In addition to supporting legislation, SCI has been active with wolf delisting litigation since 2003.
- Amend the ESA to remove authority over foreign wildlife conservation. SCI supports legislation to clarify that species that are not native in the U.S should not be treated as endangered or threatened for purposes of the ESA. Such legislation would prevent the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service from listing foreign species and requiring permits for the importation of these animals, and from banning the import of most legally-hunted wildlife into the U.S.
- Amend the ESA to require the consideration of the economic cost of adding a species to the list of endangered or threatened species. SCI believes that all stakeholders should know the economic costs before a listing decision is made.
- Amend the ESA to require that all data used to make an ESA listing determination be made available to State, local, and tribal governments. The ESA listing process has remained largely unchanged for a generation. More transparency should be built into the process.
Gray wolves in the U.S. (with the exception of the Mexican wolf subspecies in the southwestern U.S. and Mexico) have recovered from population declines that prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in the 1970s to classify wolves as threatened in Minnesota and endangered throughout the remainder of the lower 48 states. Despite their current recovered status, populations of gray wolves have repeatedly ping-ponged from federally listed to delisted status and back again.
In 2003, the FWS decided to separate gray wolves into different populations, called distinct population segments, recognizing a Western Great Lakes (WGL) wolf population living primarily in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and a Northern Rocky Mountain (NRM) wolf population living primarily in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. The FWS made several attempts to issue regulations to delist the WGL population. These all failed due to litigation challenges from pro-wolf/anti-hunting groups. As a result, and despite having met all its recovery criteria well over a decade ago, the WGL wolf population remains under federal Endangered Species Act protection. SCI has supported numerous bills in Congress that would direct the FWS to delist the WGL wolf population, but none has yet passed into law.
The NRM wolf population similarly bounced back and forth from listed to delisted status until Congress finally stepped in and statutorily removed Montana and Idaho’s wolves from the endangered species list. A few years later, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in D.C. upheld a regulation that delisted Wyoming’s wolves.
Montana, Idaho and Wyoming now manage the wolves within their boundaries and authorize hunting as part of their management strategies. Wolf populations in these states are stable under state management. Hunting has not had a detrimental impact on their conservation status. However, because of their federally listed status, the wolves of Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin (and elsewhere) cannot be hunted.
In 2019, the FWS has again tried to delist the WGL wolf population and the remaining populations of gray wolves in the lower 48 states. Since the original listing, the FWS has treated the wolves in the lower U.S. as if they are a population isolated and independent of the wolves of Canada. In the 2019 proposal, the FWS finally acknowledged the exchange between Canadian and U.S. wolves and the scientific impropriety of artificially separating the members of the species by international boundaries. The FWS proposed to delist all the gray wolves of the lower 48 states, with the exception of the Mexican wolf subspecies, based in part on the viability of the Canadian portion of the species. At this time, there has been no final decision on the delisting proposal. When and if it is finalized, it will likely be challenged in court. The Mexican wolf subspecies presents very different types of problems. In the early 1980s, the only remaining Mexican wolves existed in captivity. In 1998, the FWS reintroduced an “experimental population” from captive members into a designated area in New Mexico and Arizona and adopted a rule that incorporated extensive management flexibility to allow federal and state authorities to remove and relocate wolves that caused problems to humans and livestock. In 2015, the FWS revised the Mexican wolf rule. The 2015 rule was challenged in court from all sides, including by SCI and its New Mexico chapters. SCI’s challenge focused on the fact that the FWS revised the rule, including expanding the range and the intended size of the population, without the agreement of the State of New Mexico. Ultimately the court sided with those who wanted more wolves and more range than the FWS had authorized. The FWS has until mid-2021 to revise the rule in accordance with the court’s order. The Mexican wolf experimental population remains very small, and full recovery, let alone delisting, is far in the future – if even possible. Nevertheless, the increased wolf population and expanded range will continue to cause problems for hunters and outfitters who hunt and operate in the area of the Mexican wolf range.
Wolves are now a symbol of some of the greatest flaws in the Endangered Species Act. Ambiguities in the law have made it possible for wolf advocates to prevent the delisting of the recovered WGL population and have forced Congress to intervene to delist the NRM wolves that had become trapped on the endangered species list by repeated litigation. Mexican wolves have demonstrated the extreme flaws in the experimental population provision of the ESA – highlighting the potential management vulnerabilities of states and stakeholders that agree to accept reintroductions of experimental populations.
SCI is not and has never been anti-wolf. We support wolf conservation in balance with conservation of the game species on which wolves prey and humans depend. SCI has worked through litigation and legislation to delist recovered wolves, support hunting as a wolf management tool, and prevent federally protected wolves from interfering with hunters, hunting and the conservation of game populations. We will continue these fights until we achieve success.
Grizzly Bears in the lower-48 states were originally listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1975. At the time, grizzlies in the United States, excluding Alaska, were reduced to less than 2% of their historic range and had declined from 50,000 bears to 1,000 bears total. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has identified six recovery ecosystems for grizzly bears in the lower-48 states: the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, the Cabinet-Yaak Ecosystem, the Selkirk Ecosystem, the North Cascades Ecosystem, and the Bitterroot Ecosystem. Since the listing, the U.S. government and state governments have poured millions of dollars into grizzly bear recovery efforts, most notably in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
After decades of recovery efforts and increasing grizzly population numbers and range, the FWS determined that the Greater Yellowstone grizzly bear population was recovered and delisted the bears in 2007. A coalition of environmental groups challenged the delisting, and in 2009, the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana reversed the delisting and put the bears back on the threatened species list. The federal government and other defendants, including SCI, appealed the ruling, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s decision.
In June 2017, after further population increases—from less than 150 in 1975 to more than 650 in 2014—and range expansion, the FWS again delisted the grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Six different lawsuits challenged the delisting. Along with the federal government and other organizations, SCI defended the delisting in all six lawsuits. But, the district court in Montana again reversed the FWS’s determination and placed the bears back on the threatened species list in late 2018.
The defendants, including SCI, appealed the district court’s decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The FWS appealed only a portion of the decision and agreed to accept the court’s remand order on a portion of the rule. The appeal is ongoing, and the Court will likely hold a hearing in early 2020.
While the Greater Yellowstone bear population has ping-ponged on and off the threatened species list, some members of Congress have attempted to enact legislation that would end all litigation and delist the bears for good. SCI has supported legislation that proposed to delist the bears, but no such law has yet been enacted.
SCI will continue to advocate that the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bears should be hailed as a success story and removed from the threatened species list. The bears have recovered and no longer need federal protections under the ESA. State wildlife management agencies have worked side-by-side with federal wildlife managers on grizzly bear recovery efforts for decades and are more than capable of continuing successful grizzly conservation efforts if the population is again removed from the threatened species list.
SCI will also continue to advocate for hunting as a management and conservation tool for the Greater Yellowstone bears. As with other predator species, hunting can be an effective tool that manages grizzly population numbers, reduces human-bear conflicts, and provides other benefits for science-based conservation efforts for the species.
Safari Club routinely fights against proposed legislation or regulations that would prohibit the import of lawfully hunted trophies. These bans purport to save wildlife and conserve ecosystems. In reality, they do much more harm than good.
Well-regulated hunting has been shown to generate tangible benefits for wildlife and rural people, particularly in southern Africa. Hunting benefits both game- and nongame species because it incentivizes the protection of extensive tracts of habitat. Hunting provides value to wildlife, over and above its value as food. It acts as a deterrent to retaliatory killings of nuisance animals because local residents are far more likely to protect a problem animal that will bring in thousands of dollars of potential revenue than one with nothing to offer local residents but its meat. Hunting also provides a reason for rural communities to protect wildlife from poachers, rather than turn a blind eye to individuals who kill for the horns, teeth, or bones and contribute nothing to the local economies. Hunting also does not allow the waste of animals. Most hunters contribute the meat from the animals that they harvest to rural communities.
Hunting does not benefit only the iconic species (e.g., elephants, lions, rhinos, etc.) It benefits all species sharing the range because it contributes to habitat conservation for all wildlife. For example, hunting justifies the protection of over 690,000 km 2 of habitat in Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe alone—an area almost three times larger than strictly protected (non-hunting) areas in those countries. Hunting fees pay for management and anti-poaching efforts by government wildlife authorities, private operators and landholders, and community game scouts.
In addition, hunting provides direct benefits to the rural communities who live side-by-side with wildlife. These benefits include cash, game meat distributions, and provision of social services. For instance, 200,000 households benefit directly from Zimbabwe’s community-based conservation program, CAMPFIRE. Collectively, these households received approximately $2 million per year in hunting revenues in the period 2010 to 2015—which helped to offset the 7,000 hectares in crops destroyed by elephants during that same period.
Numerous treaties, international organizations, and respected NGOs recognize the benefits of well-regulated hunting. These include the 183 Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES); the United Nations Environment Programme; the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN); and Save the Rhinos. As just one example, the IUCN has repeatedly affirmed that “hunting can be a positive driver for conservation because it increases the value of wildlife and the habitats it depends on, providing critical benefit flows that can motivate and enable sustainable management approaches.” The IUCN has also warned that blanket bans on trophy imports “risk undermining important benefits for both conservation and local livelihoods, thus exacerbating rather than addressing the prevailing major threats of habitat loss and poaching.” These concerns are well-founded.
Proponents of trophy import restrictions suggest they will help to conserve ecosystems and increase wildlife numbers by reducing the negative impact of hunting. But import restrictions and similarly, hunting bans, have themselves caused declines in wildlife habitat and increases in human-wildlife conflicts and poaching.
Tanzania and Zimbabwe have both suffered from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service policies that limited the import of elephant and lion trophies from these countries into the United States. In Tanzania, hunting operators returned over 73,000 km 2 of concessions to the wildlife authority because they could not afford to operate these areas. The wildlife authority informed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that “[w]ithout operating or anti-poaching funds from the Safari Operators, the habitat is already disappearing and in short order, this land will be occupied by livestock, people, and snares.” In Zimbabwe, the income to rural communities fell by over 20% to approximately 1.6 million. According to the national representative of CAMPFIRE, “[t]hese revenues cannot be replaced through alternative wildlife based activities. This places almost two million hectares of wild land at risk, including the risk of increasing retaliatory killing through poisoning and illegal wildlife crime.”
Similarly, a 2016 study of Namibia’s rural conservancies found that many of those conservancies cover their operating costs with hunting income. Only 16% of conservancies could cover these expenses if hunting were banned, putting nearly 50,000 km 2 in jeopardy of conversion to farming and grazing. The study’s authors warned that the “link between income from hunting and the conditions and incentives that permit wildlife to persist as an economically viable land use is critical,” and “an import ban . . . is likely to have a very negative impact on Namibia’s [Community Based Natural Resources Management] program by severely undermining conservancy governance structures and incentives for conservation.”
Safari Club has challenged import restrictions that impact our members and the range states and rural communities who rely on regulated hunting as a conservation tool. For example, we sued to lift the import ban on elephant trophies from Tanzania and Zimbabwe. We speak out against proposed legislation to ban the import of hunting trophies like the so-called “CECIL Act.” And we publicize the benefits of hunting and correct the false statements of anti-hunting advocates. Our efforts ensure that well-regulated hunting’s critical role in conserving and protecting wildlife and habitat is not compromised by bans on the import of hunting trophies.
Recent Federal Affairs Articles
Safari Club International leads from the front when it comes to protecting the freedom to hunt. Unlike other groups who long ago abandoned the battle, SCI has fought in lawsuit after lawsuit to defend the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service‚Äôs regulations to delist recovered wolf populations. AndRead More