How does Trump stack up on hunting issues?
Wednesday, September 27, 2017
Shortly after President Donald Trump was elected in November 2016, we published an article trying to predict how his election would impact hunters in the United States. Well, with the start of hunting season upon us, it's worth reviewing how sportsmen and women have fared politically during the first eight months of the Trump administration.
First off, Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court seat formerly held by Justice Antonin Scalia until his death in 2016. While his time as a judge on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals did not result in him issuing many opinions one way or another on gun or conservation issues, the NRA strongly endorsed Gorsuch during his Senate confirmation hearings.
Gorsuch has yet to weigh in on any cases related to gun rights or conservation, but most largely count his confirmation as a Supreme Court Justice as a "win" for gun owners in general for the time being.
United States Fish and Wildlife Service
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) still does not have an official director. Deputy Director Greg Sheehan is currently running the agency until an official director is nominated by the Trump administration and confirmed by the Senate.
Sheehan was the former director of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources prior to taking over as the deputy director of USFWS. A lifetime hunter and angler, Sheehan generally received high marks for his work in Utah. Additionally, conservation groups like Safari Club International, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Ducks Unlimited all expressed support for his appointment as the deputy director USFWS.
We'll see what the future holds for USFWS when it finally gets an official director, but recent events with the agency have given hunters reasons for guarded enthusiasm regarding the future actions and management decisions.
Secretary of the Interior
When Trump nominated Congressman Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) to be the Secretary of the Interior, the news met with mixed reactions. Groups like the Sierra Club criticized the choice because of concern that Zinke would advocate opening up more federal lands to resource extraction.
On the other hand, Zinke is a serious hunter and angler who has shown support for federally managed public lands. For these reasons, he received support from groups like Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
Since his confirmation by the Senate in March, Zinke has made a number of gestures to promote hunting, fishing and other forms of outdoor recreation. For instance, he declared October "National Hunting and Fishing Month" and had the arcade game "Big Buck Hunter" installed in the Department of the Interior cafeteria.
Yes, those are just gestures — and relatively small ones at that — but they are also different actions from what you normally see from cabinet-level officials and are clearly aimed at reaching out to hunters and anglers in a positive manner.
If you're looking for some more concrete action from Zinke, then look no further than the orders he has signed regarding expanding outdoor recreation opportunities on lands managed by the Department of the Interior. In just the past few months, he has expanded hunting and fishing access at several wildlife refuges and presided over the acquisition of several parcels of land that would open or increase public access to tens of thousands of acres of prime hunting ground on federally managed land in New Mexico and Arizona.
On the other hand, Zinke has received a lot of criticism lately about the recommendations he sent to Trump regarding his proposed changes to several national monuments. It's unclear what exactly will happen on that front because Trump has not announced his final decision yet, but it's possible he'll shrink the borders of some national monuments and potentially open up others for resource extraction.
Interestingly enough, the leaked copy of Zinke's recommendations that has turned up on the internet also shows that Zinke recommended adding three additional national monuments (including the 130,000-acre Badger-Two Medicine area in Montana) and updating the management plan to "prioritize public access; infrastructure upgrades; repair, and maintenance; traditional use; tribal cultural use; and hunting and fishing rights" (emphasis ours) on virtually every single national monument in the review.
Fishing and hunting are currently permitted on some national monuments but not others. So, it remains to be seen what exactly his proposed changes will look like for hunters and anglers, especially when considering that he also recommended expanding logging, grazing and mineral extraction from several national monuments as well.
All that being said, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Mule Deer Foundation and the Congressional Sportsman's Foundation are expressing cautious optimism about the results of Zinke's monument review, though that is contingent upon the Trump administration following through on the recent pledges to increase access to federally managed public lands.
Backcountry Hunters and Anglers praised the decision to protect the Badger-Two Medicine area and to open and uphold hunting and fishing opportunities in the national monuments, but harshly criticized the proposal to permit resource extraction on them.
It's still early and things can quickly change, but the administration has mostly acted in a positive manner toward hunters, anglers and gun owners over the last eight months. While most sportsmen's groups acknowledge the positive steps the Trump administration has made on issues important to them, their support is dependent upon the administration continuing to protect the rights of sportsmen and women in the United States.
If the Trump administration changes course, then it will take a whole lot more than putting a hunting video game in the Interior Department cafeteria to get that support back.
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