March 09, 2023
By Andrew McKean
You need not be a member of the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation to benefit from its work. If you hunt, fish, shoot a gun or draw a bow, then you've already been influenced by this group that works with Congress, governors and state legislatures to protect and advance hunting, angling, recreational shooting and trapping.
The CSF is part of an ecosystem of groups that advocate on behalf of sportsmen and sportswomen. There's the Sportsmen's Alliance (SA), National Rifle Association (NRA), Safari Club International (SCI), Boone and Crockett Club (B&C), Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) and Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA), to name a handful of the dozens. That's not even mentioning the policy work that each "critter group" such as Ducks Unlimited (DU), the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF), Mule Deer Foundation (MDF) and National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) engages in.
"Most of these groups work either together or separately, but compatibly to either advocate for or against legislation that influences our ability to access public land and water, or to engage in traditional outdoor activities, or to ensure that sportsmen's investments in conservation funding remain intact.
The Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation cuts through this wilderness of acronyms by working with and supporting caucuses made up of elected officials who collaborate to advance pro-sportsmen policies. It also advocates for moderate, sustainable policies that often are supported by both major political parties. Examples include revising Sunday hunting bans, confirming the continued use of traditional lead-based ammunition on our public lands, and ensuring critical funding from the Pittman-Robertson excise tax that helps fund wildlife management across America continues.
If centrism sounds impossible in this hyper-partisan, bickering, contentious age of politics at both the national and state levels, then you're nearly right. Members of some of these caucuses might disagree about social issues, or squabble over fiscal policy, or get downright nasty about limitations on gun rights, but they generally agree to work together on conservation issues.
In many ways, that reflects both the personality and the centrist orientation of the CSF's leader, Jeff Crane, but also the middle-of-the-road, solutions-finding pragmatism of his staff and the organization's mission.
"We're not interested in picking sides," Crane told me last year prior to the CSF's annual banquet, well-attended by senators and representatives of both parties. "We're interested in getting the work of the American sportsman and -woman done, and unfortunately it often gets done on Capitol Hill and in state houses, places that hunters and anglers don't regularly visit."
Crane is one of the most influential non-elected voices in Washington, D.C., and is the longest-serving member of the Hunting and Shooting Sports Advisory Council, a group of conservation leaders appointed biannually by the secretaries of interior and agriculture. The group advises the agencies on issues related to land, wildlife and fisheries management.
With nearly 250 members of the 535 total U.S. representatives and senators, the bipartisan Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus is the largest bipartisan caucus on the Hill. Members share a background and interest in outdoor recreation and conservation, but they're united by an even stronger belief that hunters and anglers are a critical component of their constituency.
In short, it's good politics to be supportive of conservation. That you are a darling of politicians might not be immediately obvious to you, but here are some of the reasons.
- Hunters and anglers are the original conservationists. We tend to be politically conservative, but supportive of policies that are championed by progressives: clean air and water, healthy habitats, open spaces and recreation economies. Politically speaking, we're centrists.
- Many Democrats are OK with guns when they're used for hunting and recreational shooting, a fact that makes hunters and recreational shooters key swing votes for politicians with sizable blue-collar and rural voters.
- We're engaged. Those groups you belong to—those with all those acronyms—do a good job of informing members about legislation that affects them, and they have mechanisms in place for members to communicate with elected officials. I'm happy to report that many of you do just that, making you and the groups you belong to important factors in close votes.
- We are problem-solvers. Hunters and anglers tend to be pragmatic, supporting solutions rather than political impasses that have defined government gridlock, especially at the national level.
CONSERVATION BY CAUCUS
Many of those qualities are found in members of CSF's Sportsmen's Caucus network, which extends to the state level. The CSF reports 30 governors in the Governors Sportsmen's Caucus plus some 2,000 state legislators from 49 states in the National Assembly of Sportsmen's Caucuses. That's a lot of caucusing, but these groups are a real mechanism to "facilitate the interaction and idea exchange among state caucus leaders and the outdoor community," according to the CSF.
Caucuses serve as a conduit to promote policies that benefit hunting, fishing, trapping, shooting and outdoor recreation, but, just as critically, they work to kill bad legislation before it becomes law. That's an important effort, says Crane, who points out that bad legislation often leads to messy, expensive battles in the courtroom.
"CSF is focused on working through the legislative process on policies that have yet to become law," says Crane. "Whether it's good or bad policy, CSF is at the forefront working with legislators to help them better understand how their decisions can impact our outdoor traditions."
But the CSF isn't in the business of actively recruiting grassroots members. It leaves that to the organizations that actively partner with the foundation. The CSF is also funded by individuals who donate handsomely in order to ensure that the CSF has the means to do its work at the state and national levels.
Because CSF personnel aren't soliciting you for memberships or badgering you to attend a fundraising banquet, their visibility remains below those of their peer groups. But that doesn't mean they're not active. You have only to look at their legislative successes (you can find a link to their work at
congressionalsportsmen.org) in order to know that CSF is the most influential group you've never heard of. And they're just fine staying below the radar and getting the important work of conservation done with quiet effectiveness.
CSF offers several ways to learn about issues affecting the outdoors.
The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation provides multiple resources to keep you informed on CSF activities and help you stay on top of issues across the country, including a weekly newsletter called "The Sportsmen’s Voice" and an interactive service called "Tracking the Capitols." Subscribe to each by visiting the CSF's website, and check out CSF’s social media channels for real-time updates on key issues.