Despite the ongoing challenges of the pandemic, the Massachusetts BHA Team had a successful year, completing habitat improvement projects and hosting a bi-weekly virtual mentorship program throughout the year. Still, it was the legislative and policy work completed by the team that really stood out in 2021. Here are a few of the highlights.
Issue: Proposed Development Along Red Brook, Wareham - Sea Run Brook Trout Habitat
Sea-Run Brook Trout, also known as Salters, were once abundant in New England coastal rivers, but today they are only found in a few remaining systems, one of which is Red Brook. In addition, Alewife, Blueback Herring, and American Eel also utilize the brook as a necessary part of their lifecycle. The unique characteristics of the river and it’s clean, cool spring-fed water is essential for the preservation of these fisheries. These water conditions have been protected and nurtured over the years through the investment of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of hours from volunteers and stakeholder organizations, including the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.
BHA had significant concerns related to the rezoning of a 1,000 acre parcel of land into a Hospitality, Recreation and Entertainment District. Development of this type jeopardizes a complex ecological system that extends far beyond the acreage in question and compromises vital habitat and ecological services critical to wildlife and humans alike. You can read our statement in opposition to this development here.
Issue: Massachusetts Hunting & Fishing License Fee Increase
In a move to address a revenue shortfall and sustain the Inland Fishery and Game Fund, which was projected to run out in a handful of years, MassWildlife proposed a new license fee structure in January 2021. Although it had been over 25 years since the last increase in license fees, there was considerable “sticker shock” among Massachusetts hunters and anglers when the proposed fee schedule was published. From the beginning, we recognized the importance of having a financially solvent Fish and Game Agency, so it was important to be a constructive voice in the conversation. Besides attending numerous public hearings on the matter, we engaged directly with MassWildlife officials, pursued alternative funding streams through our legislative work, and actively shared the best information available through our social channels, podcasts, and with the chapter’s On Track video series.
Our concerns with the original fee schedule were heard, and ultimately a phased increase over five years was adopted and some of the fees were reduced. The new structure begins in 2022.
Issue: Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact
Some have referred to Massachusetts as a “Poacher’s Paradise”, the result of it being the only state not part of the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact (ICVC) (Hawaii is currently moving through the process of joining). 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.
The Massachusetts team strongly supported SD.587/H.904 An Act Further Regulating the Enforcement of Illegal Hunting Practices, particularly the state joining Wildlife Violator Compact. Simply put, membership protects wildlife; supports law abiding hunters and anglers; and provides the Massachusetts Environmental Police additional resources to combat poachers and other wildlife criminals. The Massachusetts team testified (watch here) in support of the bill at the Joint Committee of Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture (ENRA) hearing, submitted written testimony, and chapter coordinator Christopher Borgatti has been working with other stakeholder organizations and meeting with key lawmakers to move these bills through the legislative process.
Issue: Local Bylaws Supersede Hunting Privileges in WMAs and State Forests
Written in reaction to the managed hunt taking place in the Blue Hills Reservation, H.888: An Act Relative to Non-Lethal Animal Population Control was a concerning bill on a number of fronts. First, it sought to eliminate the use of hunting as a management tool on state properties and replace it with management techniques that are expensive, ineffective, pose public health risks, and are inhumane. Second, and of particular concern for public land hunters, the bill would eliminate hunting within Wildlife Management Areas or State Forests that are found in towns with laws prohibiting hunting or weapon discharge, effectively ending hunting on thousands of acres of public land in the Commonwealth.
The Massachusetts Team took a strong position against H.888, testifying before the the Joint Committee of ENRA and submitting written testimony. You can watch an excerpt of the testimony here.
Issue: Prohibition on the Sale of Fur
The State Team testified in opposition of H.965 and S.623, Acts prohibiting the sale of fur products. Hunting and trapping, including for furbearing animals, is an important tool that is utilized by the state to manage and balance wildlife populations, to achieve ecological goals, and to minimize conflicts between wildlife and people, pets and property. The state manages wildlife carefully and through science, setting open seasons, methods of take and bag limits. BHA recognizes hunting and trapping as valid and traditional pursuits, and without a well-stated and substantial reason to include the sale of fur from these legal, sustainable and highly regulated pursuits we do not believe that the sale of fur from hunting and trapping should be included in a ban that has to do with addressing concerns related to commercial fur farming.
Issue: Sunday Hunting
This year there were four bills related to Sunday Hunting (H.914, H.984, H.1016, H.1023) and the chapter testified in support of these bills at the Joint Committee of ENRA. Massachusetts is now just among only a handful of states that has yet repeal Blue Laws pertaining to Sunday Hunting. For hardworking resident sportsmen and women, this antiquated law, severely limits their opportunity to be in the field and share their outdoor traditions with family and friends. Opponents consistently devalue the contributions of hunters and anglers in Commonwealth, and use fear to perpetuate the myth that hunters put the public at risk. The reality is that hunting remains as one of the safest forms of recreation, falling between billiards and bowling in the number of accidents per 100 participants. It should be noted that injuries to non-participants, are extraordinarily rare.
Currently, Massachusetts law equates the release of an arrow the same as the discharge of a firearm. They are not the same. S.552 and H.1025 would decrease the setback of archery hunters hunting from a tree stand to 250’ or approximately 83 yards, a safe and still considerable distance from any occupied dwelling. This small change would dramatically increase opportunity on lands where it is already permissible to hunt, which is why the Massachusetts Team was strongly in favor of this bill.
While S.552 and H.1025 sought to decrease setbacks for hunting, S.507 is an attempt to double the distance for coastal waterfowl hunters. S.507 An Act Addressing Noise Issues of Migratory Game Hunters Near Coastal Dwellings stems from a small contingent of residents on the North Shore, who wish to have the setback from the shoreline increased to 1000’. The State Team testified in opposition to the bill at Joint ENRA Committee in early January 2022 and submitted written testimony.
Issue: Creation of Old Growth Reserves in WMA’s and State Forests
A number of bills pertaining to forestry and habitat management have been on the chapter’s radar for the past several legislative sessions. House bills H.1002, H.1003, H.856, H.912, and Senate bill S.557 seemed to have a bit more momentum this year, so we increased our efforts in opposition of these bills. Our concerns relate to setting aside state lands, historically managed for wildlife conservation goals, inclusive of hunting and fishing activities, and placing these lands behind poorly defined notions of "forest reserves" and "old growth forests", which may be used to prohibit the as-of-now legally established sporting activities. And we believe these concepts may likely be used to interfere with science-based management of public and private lands, which benefit not just game animals, but also a multitude of nongame, endangered status, and threatened status species.
For example, H.1002 would re-designate a minimum of 30% of state Wildlife Management Areas as "WMA Nature Reserves", which would be guided by an advisory council with the power to exclude hunting and fishing activities and prohibit state wildlife biologists from executing management plans for tens of thousands of acres across the Commonwealth. Since state Agencies like MassWildlife are essentially the sole entities doing impactful habitat management and ensuring that the forests on state lands are healthy, consist of a variety of age classes, and support wildlife, it is essential these lands continue to be managed by sound scientifically supported practices.
The Massachusetts State Leadership Team will continue to monitor legislative issues that affect our core goals and values and keep our members apprised of any new developments. If any member has an issue that they feel should be addressed by the Chapter, please feel free to bring it to our attention. Email us at [email protected]