By W. Laird Hamberlin
Today, the California Senate General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee will vote on SB 1175, a bill that claims to implement new “prohibitions on importation and possession of wild animals” in order to prevent the transmission of zoonotic diseases like COVID-19. But in truth, this bill is nothing more than a legislative smokescreen intended to conceal its core objective: language banning the import of certain African species parts harvested legally in African range states.
This bill, originally called the Iconic African Species Protection Act was written without any scientific input from the world’s conservationists. Instead, the bill’s supporters allowed their emotions to dictate a policy issue that actively harms conservation efforts in African range countries. While the legislators who support this bill might choose to ignore that fact, they would also do well to consider the fiscal anchor that this bill will strap to a state already drowning in debt.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has conservatively estimated that they would need $4.7 million in new funding to hire 12 new positions in years 2020-21 alone to provide for enforcement of just the Iconic Species Act portion of SB 1175. After 2021, the agency would need an additional $3.2 million annually just to ensure hunters are denied their right to bring home animals that are legally harvested in Africa and imported with all required federal permits.
The decision for the state Senate to take up such a costly measure at a time when California is in the midst of a $54.3 billion budget deficit is nothing short of irresponsible. The crisis is so serious that Governor Newsom has implied that without federal aid the state’s “first responders, our police officers and firefighters… will be laid off by cities and counties.”
If funding is at risk for those who put their life on the line for others on a daily basis, allocating millions to block hunters from doing their part in proven African conservation plans simply cannot be a legitimate priority for elected officials.
This is especially true for a legislative body that only last month decided to resume their work but promised to prioritize items that specifically dealt with COVID-19 and the damage the pandemic has done to both public health and the economy. That is why sponsors of SB 1175 tried to bury the import ban on African species in a bill that now also prohibits imports of live wild animals in an attempt to reduce the transmission of zoonotic diseases.
COVID-19 has made clear the dangers of zoonotic illnesses, but addressing that threat has nothing to do with hunting in Africa. Any state senator who supports SB 1175 should recognize that the import ban language of the Iconic African Species Protection Act is nothing short of crass opportunism by anti-hunters, at the expense of all the state’s taxpayers.
Laird Hamberlin is the CEO of Safari Club International