CHILDRESS: Conservation and wildlife restoration hinge on our right to hunt and fish

Christine T. Nguyen—North State Journal
Sens. Norman Sanderson

From the mountains to the coast, the strong hunting and fishing heritage in North Carolina runs deep. It began for me when my stepfather took me out in the woods near Winston-Salem to squirrel hunt and fish for bluegill and largemouth bass. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to see God’s creations throughout my home state while trout fishing in the Blue Ridge Mountains, turkey hunting in the Piedmont, striper fishing on the Roanoke River, red drum fishing on the Pamlico Sound, quail hunting in the Sandhills, and duck hunting on the Outer Banks.Some of my greatest memories come from hunting and fishing experiences with great friends, like Dale Earnhardt, and family. Sharing time with my grandsons, Austin and Ty Dillon, and letting them experience the great outdoors, just like I did when I was their age, is always time well spent.As I grow older, I realize that as a North Carolina sportsman I play a role for the greater good of our state’s wildlife and natural resources. I’m committed to passing along our fishing and hunting heritage to our next generation through conservation and wildlife restoration.Sportsmen and women are the backbone to conserving our lands and waterways. In 2016, 1.87 million people bought hunting and fishing licenses in North Carolina generating $27.2 million in revenue for the state. This money is critical to maintaining our fish and wildlife agencies and all the conservation work they do.But what’s more important is federal legislation like the Pittman-Robertson Act (enacted in 1937) and Dingell-Johnson Act (enacted in 1950) that were spearheaded by sportsmen and women — both call for an excise tax on firearms, ammunition, fishing equipment, tackle, and motorboat fuel. In 2016, these programs generated $29.1 million of revenue for North Carolina and support wildlife habitat management, construction of public shooting ranges and boat ramps, hunter education, public land acquisitions, and fish and wildlife management programs in the state.Through this “user-pays, public-benefits” approach, sportsmen and women in North Carolina are the lifeblood of conservation. They are critical not only to fisheries and wildlife management, but also to restoring populations of animals like white-tailed deer, brook trout, turkey, waterfowl, numerous non-game species, and more recently, elk. They provide an economic impact to the state of over $2.3 billion and create more than 35,000 local jobs.If it weren’t for hunters, anglers, recreational shooters and boaters — who would foot the bill?That’s why I was thrilled to see a constitutional amendment, Senate Bill 677, introduced by Sens. Danny Britt, Andrew Brock, and Norman Sanderson to protect our right to hunt and fish. If passed, it would let voters in the November 2018 general election decide whether to amend the constitution to safeguard our right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife — something that 21 other states already guarantee in their constitutions.Protecting our rights to hunt and fish through legislation is an important step toward passing our hunting and fishing heritage along to the next generation. This constitutional amendment will ensure that our time-honored traditions of hunting and fishing are protected in perpetuity.Another important bill under consideration is House Bill 559, “Outdoor Heritage Enhanced,” sponsored by Rep. Chris Millis. H.B. 559 would increase access and opportunity for sportsmen and women by allowing Sunday hunting on North Carolina’s 2 million acres of game lands and removing other restrictions that limit the ability for hardworking families and youth to enjoy the great outdoors seven days a week. Removing barriers to participation in hunting is critical to recruiting, retaining and reactivating hunters.Of all the accomplishments I’ve had in my life time — winning the Daytona 500, 17 NASCAR championships, winning over 200 races, being a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame and raising a family that has supported me along the way — I’m most proud of being a North Carolina sportsman and directly contributing to our sporting traditions. I’m honored to be part of the future of conserving our state’s wildlife and natural resources.These bills are important. The constitutional right to hunt and fish and expanded Sunday hunting opportunities will ensure a fish and wildlife legacy for our future generations.Richard Childress is the chairman and CEO of Richard Childress Racing Enterprises in Welcome, N.C. He is also the 2017 National Hunting and Fishing Day Honorary Chairman and serves as the first vice president of the National Rifle Association where he is chairman of the Hunting, Wildlife and Conservation Committee.