Is this our future?
Wildlife conservation and habitat restoration efforts have all but died in California. State and federal public lands, already underfunded, are struggling to fund even the most minimal ecological projects that benefit wildlife, both game and non-game. Hunter numbers have declined to practically non-existent levels, prompting dramatic cutbacks in fish and game law enforcement staff. Poaching is out of control and large game populations on public land are few and far between. Hunting is limited to the largely urban elite who can afford out-of-state, out-of-country hunting trips or access to private ranches inaccessible to the public. The lack of restoration projects is having a dramatic impact on non-game species as increasing numbers of them are being listed as threatened and endangered. Many simply no longer occur in California. Illegal marijuana sites are no longer cleaned up and a laundry list of hazardous materials is finding its way into California’s streams and soils, poisoning fish, non-game and game animals alike. Wildlife guzzlers on public land are no longer placed or are in disrepair and as climate change continues, water sources for wildlife are increasingly rare and populations are moving on or slowly dying out.
Public education efforts on the importance of wildlife management and appreciation for much of outdoors recreation are mostly gone. Overall public enthusiasm for wildlife protection, public land access and restoration efforts has devolved to a “who cares?” attitude as the increasingly urban population turns more to Facebook and Twitter as its primary form of entertainment and education. Fewer young people are exposed, not just to hunting, but to any activity related to conservation, preferring instead the glitter of media attention while they clamor to deny rights to anyone other than themselves.
Sound like current reality? If Assembly Bill 3199 is passed in California, this is likely to be the state of wildlife, habitat and public awareness here in a few years. In the current media hysteria to blame gun owners and the Second Amendment for society’s ills, Assemblymember Chris Holden of Pasadena, California has decided that firearms should be prohibited as raffle or bid items for non-profit organizations. Like the majority of California’s hunting and firearms regulation, this bill continues to move the goal post of “reasonable” legislation back until no playing field is left.
This bill has absolutely nothing to do with stopping gun violence. It addresses no gun control issue. It does not contribute to firearm safety. It is merely a vindictive effort to punish hunters, the shooting sports enthusiasts and other outdoorsmen who tirelessly contribute volunteer hours and their personal funds to promote California’s wildlife, habitat, public lands and outdoor education. This legislation is a slap in the face to the army of volunteers who donate their time any money to the National Wild Turkey Federation, California Deer Association, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, California Waterfowl Association, California Houndsmen for Conservation, California Rifle and Pistol Association, Mule Deer Foundation, NRA Members Council, The Hunt for Truth Association, California Bowhunters Association, California Farm Bureau, National Open Field Coursing Association, Quail Forever, the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance and a host of others.
Yes, the opportunity to win a new firearm at a community banquet is an integral part of the culture and values of the organization membership and those who support them. And why not? Attendees at these banquets culturally identify with hunting and shooting sports. They want their kids, grandkids and community youth to have the opportunity to hunt, shoot and learn how to safely enjoy firearms. And it certainly doesn’t hurt to win that new turkey shotgun or deer rifle for yourself. More importantly, the money raised from firearms raffles goes to a host of conservation efforts.
All of the firearms offered at these conservation banquets are compliant with California’s firearms laws. All are legally available to purchase under commerce regulation; all go through federally licensed firearms dealers who personally bring them to the events, obtain the winners’ personal data, and then return the firearms to the store vault at the end the night; all winners make a subsequent trip to the licensed dealer to complete the background check paperwork and wait California’s legislated ten day waiting period before they can finally take possession. Are we not following the reasonable gun control of which the media speaks?
More importantly, this culture of outdoor enthusiasts is passionate about supporting conservation efforts to improve wildlife habitat and population numbers, support law enforcement so they can stop poachers, and fight for access to public lands for the benefit of hunters and non-hunters alike; they are passionate about providing outdoor opportunities for youth, women and minorities, the disabled; they are passionate about providing education on hunter and firearm safety, the need for better management of our public lands, and the importance of treading lightly on the landscape so others can enjoy the same outdoors in whatever way they choose to do so. People who support these conservation organizations pour millions of dollars into these efforts in California each year through both direct contributions and volunteerism.
As much as Assemblymember Holden thinks otherwise, this is not a gun control bill. It is an anti-conservation and anti-education bill. It is an attack on cultural values that he doesn’t personally share. And make no mistake, it will affect California residents who do not hunt or shoot in ways they cannot yet imagine. Everyone wants to keep our children safe from gun violence, especially we hunters and shooting sports enthusiasts. And, we are open to discussions on policies that achieve those goals. But, the only thing that this law would actually accomplish, is the degradation of California’s wildlife and wild places. Please help us in urging Assemblymember Holden to drop this bill.
Dr. Chris O’Brien