Four Decades of Defending Hunting, Fishing and Trapping
Beginning in the mid 1970’s, the threat to our outdoor heritage became so great that a group of business leaders took it upon themselves to organize sportsmen to fight to protect hunting, fishing and trapping opportunities across the country.
What started as the defense of an Ohio trapping issue in 1977 with national implications, soon evolved into the country’s leading advocate for sportsmen across the country — The U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance (USSA) and the USSA Foundation (USSAF).
For nearly four decades, USSA has fought to protect and advance our outdoor heritage of hunting, fishing, trapping and shooting in all 50 state legislatures, in the courts, in Congress and at the ballot box. As USSA’s work continues to grow stronger so too has the animal rights movement.
Originally known as the Wildlife Legislative Fund of America and Wildlife Conservation Fund of America, the organization formed in 1977 after Ohio Ballot Issue 2 threatened Ohio’s trapping community. After leading the fight to successfully defeat the bill, USSA was officially incorporated in 1978 as the number one defender of sportsmen across the country.
Setting the Stage
In those early years, USSA would leave its mark on the sporting and legislative community. In 1982, we actively supported Common Sense Amendments to the Endangered Species Act that would protect our outdoor heritage from coast to coast. Not slowing down, we would move on to create hunter harassment legislative language that over the next decade would be implemented in all 50 states to protect sportsmen while in the field from anti-hunters. That protection is still in place today and we are now working on measures to protect sportsmen from harassment and cyber-bullying after the hunt.
Under USSA’s leadership, a 1983 ballot issue aimed to ban moose hunting in Maine was defeated, protecting sportsmen from losing their moose hunting privileges. Out of this victory, USSA would create the Protect What’s Right campaign to utilize the vast network of conservation clubs to educate the public and advance our mission. At one point, as many as 1,500 conservation clubs from coast to coast united under the Protect What’s Right banner.
Shortly after, we created the The Sportsmen’s Legal Defense Fund (SLDF), making it the only entity with the sole purpose of defending sportsmen’s rights in the courts. It is still winning precedent-setting cases for sportsmen today.
Fighting for the Future
Over the next eight years, USSA would continue to grow as a national organization. We would soon come to understand that not only was it important to protect current sportsmen, but also to introduce outdoor sports to the next generation.
In 2001 the Trailblazer Adventure Program was created to reach a new generation of hunters and anglers by introducing youth and their families to an outdoor lifestyle. Holding the first pilot program in Atlanta in 2001, the Trailblazer Adventure Program would develop into the nation’s leading outdoor youth education program, reaching 1 million participants in just nine years. Today, the program is nearing the 2 million participant plateau.
USSA expanded its work to get newcomers in the field through the development of the Families Afield program, a collaborative effort by USSA, National Shooting Sports Foundation and the National Wild Turkey Federation with support from the National Rifle Association and the Congressional Sportsmen Foundation. Families Afield continues to be a leading program to open the door to a new generation of hunters. The hallmark of the program is a “try before you buy” approach, allowing new hunters to obtain an apprentice license and hunt under the watchful eye of an experienced hunter before taking a hunter education course.
The program has enjoyed huge success, being implemented in 35 states across the country and surpassing one million apprentice hunting licenses sold.
In recent years, USSA has worked against a nationwide wave of attacks on the sporting dog community by the animal rights lobby, setting the stage for the development of the Dog Wars campaign. The effort protects sporting dog owners from anti hunters and thus
far, USSA has monitored and worked on more than 350 bills, many of them restrictive kenneling bills masked as “puppy mill” legislation. To date, no bills have passed in any state that restrict sportsmen in raising and utilizing hunting dogs.
Fighting Anti-Hunters Nationally
We achieved a monumental victory in 2010 after an eight year battle to ensure hunting access on 100 million acres of the National Wildlife Refuge system ended with a victory over the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service granted our request to delist the Western Great Lakes Region wolves from the endangered species list in 2011, making way for wolf hunting seasons to reopen.
Building on this success, 2012 was no different for USSA as we pushed federal legislation aimed at protecting hunting, fishing and trapping on public lands, otherwise known as the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act.
Presently, Maine sportsmen are again facing off with anti-hunting forces as their ability to bear hunt with bait and dogs, as well as bear trapping is being threatened. The front group pushing the ballot issue, “Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting,” is actually bankrolled by the Washington D.C. based HSUS, the country’s largest anti-hunting organization. According to recent campaign finance reports, HSUS contributed $750,000 directly to the campaign and an additional $98,000 of in-kind support. This accounts for roughly 99% of the funds raised to date. This issue is nearly identical to one which faced Maine sportsmen in 2004 that was soundly defeated with USSA’s help.
Wolf management in the Great Lakes also continues to see pressure from animal rights groups, as HSUS and a litany of other anti-hunting organizations have an ongoing lawsuit to overturn the delisting of the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act.
In Michigan, out-of-state animal rights groups are raising funds to stop wolf management efforts. A group operating under the name “Keep Michigan Wolves Protected” initially raised more than half-million dollars to put the issue on the 2014 ballot. As is the case in Maine, HSUS has been a major out-of-state contributor to the campaign.
As it has for 36 years, USSA continues to be the leading organization fighting coast to coast against any legislation or action that threatens your outdoor heritage, while at the same time, proactively advancing legislation that allows more opportunities for sportsmen.
Download a graphic version of USSA’s history today!