In a region where the wins that protect and expand the opportunities available to hunters are few and far between, the Massachusetts State Leadership Team (SLT) is happily celebrating a series of recent victories that were won on both the legislative and regulatory front.
Expanded Small Game Season & More Opportunity on Wildlife Management Areas – Regulatory
Two of the Massachusetts SLT’s top regulatory priorities will soon be removed from the team’s list thanks to a recent decision by the Fisheries & Wildlife Board. These include ending hunting hour restrictions imposed on Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) stocked with pheasants and extending the season on gray squirrels. Presently, hunters pursuing game other than pheasants (deer, small game, waterfowl, etc.) on WMAs that are stocked during the season were unable to hunt the ½ hour before sunrise and the ½ hour after sunset, which as any hunter knows is often the best time to be in the woods. In total, this would provide an additional 6 hours a week of opportunity for deer and small-game hunters (3 for waterfowl, since migratory bird hunting ends at sunset) on these properties. The proposed expanded gray squirrel season will provide small-game hunters an additional two months to be in the woods, with the season being extended from January 2 to the last day of February.
These regulatory concerns, along with a few others were heard by state officials and were approved for the regulatory amendment process earlier this year. This culminated in a public comment period, in person hearing, and ultimately a vote by the Fisheries and Wildlife Board. The state leadership team engaged our members and supporters, and the response was outstanding. Approximately 80% of the public comments originated from the team’s outreach. In addition, Chapter Coordinator Chris Borgatti delivered oral testimony to the Fisheries and Wildlife Board at meeting in June. The Board voted unanimously for the regulatory amendments and after a procedural review by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, it will soon be filed as regulation.
“Poaching Bill” - Legislative
On August 4, 2022, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law what has been commonly referred to as the “Poaching Bill”, the passing of which will result in Massachusetts becoming the last state to join the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact (ICVC)
The ICVC is a network that shares information between member states as it pertains to hunting, fishing, trapping, and other wildlife related law violations. It allows law enforcement agencies to track wildlife violators and hold them accountable across state lines. Suspension and revocations of fishing and hunting licenses in one state can be applied to all member states, further preventing repeat offenders from having fishing and hunting privileges in other states. In addition, the new law will also modernize the penalties associated with various poaching crimes.
The Poaching Bill has been one of the Massachusetts SLT’s priorities for the past several years, one that New York and New England Chapter Coordinator Christopher Borgatti first began working on as a chapter volunteer and then later as a BHA staffer. “This never had anything to do with hunting or hunters”, said Borgatti. “This was about being a voice for wildlife and taking a stand against those who make a hardened decision to break the law and exploit our natural resources.”
This year alone, hundreds of BHA members and supporters answered the chapter’s call and took action, sending letters of support for the bill to their respective elected officials as well as key committees when called upon by the chapter. In addition, SLT members testified in several public hearings and worked with lawmakers and their staff throughout the bill’s journey.
Bolstering Inland Fisheries & Game Fund - Legislative
Several years ago, the Massachusetts SLT was actively engaged in conversations surrounding the proposed license fee hikes for hunters and anglers in Massachusetts. At the time, it had been over two decades since license fees had changed in the state and there were major concerns regarding the financial solvency of the Division of Fish and Wildlife (MassWildlife). For several years, MassWildlife was able to rely on the Inland Fisheries & Game Fund to cover a revenue shortfall, but the fund was forecasted to be exhausted in the near future, so some action needed to be taken. While the license fee increase was a necessary step in securing financial solvency, it was clear that MassWildlife also needed to diversify revenue streams. One concept supported by the New England Chapter was reimbursing the agency from the general fund for the free and discounted licenses it is mandated to provide to qualifying citizens (primarily senior citizens). With an aging demographic of hunters and anglers, this accounted for over a million dollars in lost revenue, a number that would continue to tick upwards over the next decade.
There were several bills filed to accomplish this reimbursement mechanism, but ultimately it was a budgetary amendment that was incorporated into the proposed Massachusetts budget that was recently signed by the Governor. The Massachusetts SLT, members, and supporters played an important role in educating lawmakers of the importance of this funding stream and the value of a financially solvent Division of Fish and Wildlife not only to hunters and anglers, but to all residents of Massachusetts.