California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed Senate Bill 1058 to prevent hunter generated revenues from being misused for non-game or non-hunting purposes. The measure was authored by Senator Tom Harman (R-Huntington Beach) and sponsored by the California Outdoor Heritage Alliance (COHA).
"This much-needed law will ensure accountability and transparency over the state's use of hunter-generated dollars," stated Mark Hennelly, Vice President of COHA. The bill's approval will annually reallocate an estimated $3.6 million of hunter-generated dollars back to their intended game conservation and hunting related uses.
Since the 1980's - in an effort to address budget shortfalls and unfunded mandates in other areas - the state has improperly redirected big game tag and upland bird stamp revenues.
Loopholes in state law allowed for a significant portion of deer tag funds and all bear tag monies to be used for non-game purposes, while a large percentage of pig tag funds simply remained unspent or were redirected. According to the state's own data from 2006, only 62% of deer tag revenue was actually used for deer-related projects. Similarly, only 64% of wild pig tag money and 48% of wild sheep auction tag money was used for related conservation work.
Under COHA-sponsored SB 1058, state law will now require that all user fee revenues generated from bear, elk, wild sheep, antelope, wild pig, deer and upland game bird stamps and tags be used for big game and upland bird conservation and public hunting purposes. Combined, these revenues total roughly $11 million dollars each year.
In addition, the measure requires that the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) consult with, and seek input from, hunting-related organizations on proposed projects before tag and stamp funds can be expended.
"California deer hunters have seen the deer herd numbers in this state drop by 46%," noted Matt Rogers, President of the California Deer Association (CDA). "We are optimistic that with the signing of SB 1058, the money now spent by deer hunters for tags, as well as the funds raised at CDA banquets, will help reverse this trend. We look forward to working with the DFG in this effort."
David Allen, President/CEO of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and member of the COHA Board of Directors, agreed. "Passage of SB 1058 will substantially enhance our ability to do conservation work in California's elk country. The fact that these additional state funds will be even further leveraged and supplemented - combined with our ability to now advise on project selection - will provide substantial benefits to RMEF's mission accomplishment in the Golden State."
The new law also consolidates existing big game species fiscal accounts into a single account, which will improve efficiency in the use of tag funds and give DFG greater flexibility to benefit all big game species.
"COHA staff displayed great patience and adaptability while working with conservationists and Legislators over a period of years to guide SB1058 to fruition. This bill creates a building block for future conservation legislation," said Rich Fletcher, State Chair for The Mule Deer Foundation.
For more than three years, COHA worked with its sporting allies and COHA member organizations - including the California Deer Association, Mule Deer Foundation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, California Houndsmen for Conservation, CA Chapter of the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep, National Wild Turkey Federation and California Waterfowl - to pass this legislation in order to safeguard hunters' dollars.
*Photo courtesy of COHA