Bush signs law allowing states to set own hunting, fishing rules



5/12/2005 11:37 pm

A bill affirming the authority of states to regulate hunting and fishing has been signed into law by President Bush.

The legislation frees states to set their own regulations and in some — including Nevada — upholds rules that favor residents over out-of-state applicants.

The measure, sponsored by several Western lawmakers including U.S. Sens. Harry Reid and John Ensign of Nevada, was in response to a 2002 federal appeals court ruling that said states restricting nonresident hunting tags must do so in the “least discriminatory” way.

Versions of the bill were passed by the Senate and House of Representatives, and then attached to an emergency appropriations bill for defense, terrorism and tsunami relief that was signed by Bush late Wednesday, Reid’s press secretary, Tessa Hafen, said Thursday.

“This is a big victory for Nevadans and for sportsmen everywhere,” Reid, D-Nev., said when the measure passed the Senate earlier this week.

The hunting provision states it’s in the public interest for any state to be able to regulate fish and wildlife programs within its boundaries, “including by means of laws or regulations that differentiate between residents and nonresidents” or fees charged.

It further asserts that such restrictions do not fall under the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The law follows a ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in an Arizona case filed by three New Mexico outfitters who claimed restrictions on nonresidents in some big game hunts were discriminatory.

Having prevailed in the Arizona case, the outfitters sued Nevada in July, alleging Nevada’s draw system that reserves most big game tags for residents was illegal because it discriminated against nonresidents.

“The people of Wyoming know how to manage the wildlife in our state better than the 9th Circuit Court or the federal government,” said U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.

“Wildlife is one of Wyoming’s most important assets and this bill reaffirms that Wyoming citizens, who bear most of the costs associated with managing wildlife, will remain in control,” Enzi said.

National hunting groups largely have stayed out of the fight.

“It’s a tough one, a divisive thing. As an organization we don’t have a position and are not likely to take one,” said Dan Crockett, a spokesman for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in Montana.

Both sides have legitimate arguments, he said.

“I understand the concern that if you live in New York or Nebraska and you have to pay roughly 148 times as much to hunt for the same elk I hunt for in Montana,” Crockett said Thursday.

At the same time, “the last time I checked, Montana was 46th or 47th in per capita income, so sometimes people make a deliberate trade-off to live somewhere and have these sort of opportunities,” he said.

Though other states use restrictive criteria for some hunts, Nevada is the only state that uses a quota system for all big game species.

Last year, about 112,000 people applied for tags in Nevada. Of the 19,800 tags issued for big game, 18,255 went to residents.

The restrictions have been questioned in Nevada after a son and father, who was on the Nevada Wildlife Commission, were charged with providing false information to illegally obtain resident Nevada hunting licenses for the son in 2002-2004. The men have pleaded no contest, but are trying to withdraw their pleas, saying they didn’t do anything wrong in obtaining the hunting licenses.

To comply with the federal appeals court ruling, the Nevada Wildlife Commission in March adopted new rules to try to even the playing field between residents and nonresidents.

Nevada Department of Wildlife spokesman Chris Healy said Wednesday that the new legislation signed by Bush won’t affect this year’s big game lottery because the rules already have been set.

Wildlife commissioners meet today and Saturday in Reno to set tag quotas for different species. The annual lottery is conducted in June.


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