With the Rhode Island legislative session in full swing and DEM’s hunting & fishing annual regulatory process right around the corner we’ve been working hard to ensure the voices of hunters and anglers are heard when decisions that will affect us are made. Below you’ll find some updates on work we’ve recently completed and issues we’ve been tracking in January, and information on some of the things we’re expecting in the coming months.
New England BHA Renews Legislation to Protect Rhode Island’s Wild Deer
The New England Chapter of BHA has introduced legislation in the RI General Assembly that if passed would protect Rhode Island’s wildlife, and in particular our wild deer. Introduced by Rep. Scott Slater (D – District 10), H7439 is a continuation of our efforts during prior legislative sessions to prevent the establishment of big game captive hunting facilities in our Rhode Island. The bill seeks to prohibit importing native and non-native big game animals to conduct captive hunts within private facilities, and is a direct response to bills from the 2018 RI legislative session that would have paved the way to legalize captive hunting in Rhode Island (H8090 & S2929A). The 2018 bills made it to the House and Senate floor and postponed at the last minute due to public opposition. Since 2018 thirteen bills have been introduced in the RI General Assembly with the intention of prohibiting captive big game hunting, but none have been passed yet.
Following last year’s passage of H5469A, which created a House Legislative Commission to study public access to Rhode Island’s shoreline, we’ve watched closely and participated in opportunities for public input to the Commission.
At the center of this issue lies the question of exactly where Rhode Islanders are allowed to practice constitutionally protected activities like fishing and traversing along the shore, and where private property owners can prevent the public from being on the beach. At their most recent meeting on January 27th we got a first glance at what the Commission’s recommendations might look like. There was broad confirmation that the “mean high tide line” is not fairly balanced or readily identifiable, and that a new boundary must be determined. Discussion ranged from using the most recent line of seaweed on the beach up to the line of permanent vegetation. While opponents continue to threaten that assigning a boundary too far would constitute a “taking” under the 5th Amendment of the US Constitution and could subject the state to untold monetary penalties, legal experts have advised the Commission that it is highly unlikely that a takings claim could be won in this situation, and even if it was no such claim has ever resulted in financial payouts. We are expecting the Commission to draft legislation that will be considered by the General Assembly later this year, and will continue to push to ensure the public’s access to the shore.
As the government body that oversees protection and development of RI’s coastal zone, the Coastal Resources Management Council has jurisdiction over some of the most productive hunting and fishing land and water in our state. Following the near-approval of an aquaculture lease adjacent to Sapowet WMA without even mentioning that hunters use the area we’ve grown concerned with how the Council balances development against the public’s interests. On January 19th we shared testimony with the House Study Commission on CRMC Reorganization with our recommendations for changes the Legislature could make to restore the public’s faith in how RI’s coastal zone is managed for our collective benefit.
Old Growth Forests
At the January 27th hearing of the House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources we submitted testimony on H7066, which sought to impose legislative restrictions on the tools and methods public land managers can use to achieve forestry and wildlife habitat goals. While its intentions of protecting old growth forests and rare forest types aren’t necessarily bad, imposing restrictions before the Forest Conservation Commission that was created last year following the passage of H5760A/S470A has a chance to issue recommendations seems premature, as the Commission is tasked with many of the same goals and has a scope that will examine forest conservation issues on both public and private land.
Striped Bass – ASMFC Amendment 7
On January 26th ASMFC’s Atlantic Striped Bass Board approved Amendment 7 for public comment. Like the Amendment 7 Public Input Document, which the New England & New York Chapters weighed in on last April, this is a long and complex document that will take some time for us to digest. In the coming weeks we will be sharing resources and asking for you to speak up and let the ASMFC know that they must recover the fishery to healthy and abundant levels and implement management practices to ensure that it stays that way for future generations. We are expecting there to be state hearings on Amendment 7 in March, and the deadline for public comment is April 15th.
DEM Hunting & Fishing Regulations
Each year Rhode Island DEM opens the hunting and fishing regulations to update open season dates and make periodical changes to methods of take and bag limits. This regulatory process also provides an opportunity for the public learn about the agency’s activities, to weigh in on proposed changes and to share ideas with the agency. If you’ve got ideas on how to improve access and opportunity for hunting and angling in Rhode Island we’re interested in hearing from you, as we’ll be participating in the. Because they’re open to the public, we would encourage you to participate too. Draft regulations are typically posted in mid-April and public hearings typically occur in early May.
If you are interested in getting more involved in the Chapter’s activities in 2022 – whether that means engaging on conservation policy, helping to plan and execute public land work projects, or organizing events and workshops for local hunters and anglers – we’re interested in hearing from you. Please send us a message at [email protected].