Friends of Animals says it intends to drop federal duck stamp lawsuit
Waterfowlers and other citizens who care about the federal duck stamp have until next Friday, July 23, to comment on a proposal that would eliminate the mandatory “hunting element” for contest artwork.
The Trump administration pushed for the hunting element rule, which went into effect in May 2020, and – in a 180-degree reversal – the Biden U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now says it wants to remove that rule effective with the 2022 contest.
Back in January, I reported that the Friends of Animals, a Connecticut-based animal rights group filed a lawsuit against the then-new hunting element requirement. At the time, no one at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the Department of Justice would comment on the litigation.
Friends of Animals said then that they were suing because the rule alienated nonhunters like birdwatchers or photographers who may find killing of birds offensive.
“This takes the cake as one of the most ludicrous, anti-wildlife, anti-conservation measures the (Trump) administration has implemented,” said Priscilla Feral, Friends of Animals president, in a release.
Did the lawsuit from an animal rights group influence the USFWS and Biden administration decision to recommend eliminating this rule?
I pitched that question to USFWS and Department of Justice, and as of midday Friday, had not heard back. Adam Kreger, an associate attorney with Friends of Animals, responded to my query, however, and confirmed that his organization supports the proposed change and intends to dismiss its case if this proposal becomes rule.
Kreger said the FoA’s lawsuit landed just as administrations were changing, and FoAs agreed to put the lawsuit temporarily on hold while the Biden USFWS reviewed rules from the previous administration. No further discussions occurred between his organization and the USFWS, he said.
“The rule is still applicable for this year’s contest which we do not agree with, but we’re happy that it likely won’t be permanent,” Kreger said.
The 2020 regulations certainly will remain in place for the 2021 contest, which will be held Sept. 24 and 25, per the USFWS duck stamp contest website. (Submissions for the 2021 contest, by the way, are due by August 15, 2021. See details here.)
In justifying the proposed change, the USFWS said in its June 23 federal register posting: “Since the implementation of the 2020 rule requiring the inclusion of a mandatory hunting-related element, many Duck Stamp Contest artists have continued to express their dissatisfaction with this element being a requirement for all entries. The Service has proposed this change to allow artists more freedom of expression when designing their entries.”
If the proposal becomes rule, hunting elements will become optional to artists. Removing the requirement will not prevent artists from including other elements such as hunting dogs, decoys, and hunting scenes in their artwork submissions as long as an eligible waterfowl species is in the foreground, portrayed alive, and is clearly the focus of attention, the agency said.
Waterfowl hunters buy the bulk of the nation’s federal duck stamps because they’re required to hunt ducks and geese. A smaller percentage of citizens also buy the stamps for their artistic and conservation value.
Response this scribe encountered to the “hunting element” as the Trump USFWS first unveiled the idea two years ago was mixed from artists and waterfowlers alike. Some folks appreciated a tip of the hat to hunters, who have been buying the stamp since 1934, while others considered it unnecessary. Several artists privately told me that jamming in a decoy, dog, or call meant an already challenging piece of (small) artwork became even more challenging.
Back on May 8, 2020, the USFWS published its rule (now under review) making permanent the theme “celebrating our waterfowl hunting heritage” for all future contests. The regulations required the inclusion of a waterfowl hunting-related scene or accessory in every entry but did not specify what accessories to include. An image of a drake lesser scaup with a lanyard and duck calls was chosen as the winner of the 2020 Contest. That image now appears on the 2021-2022 Federal Duck Stamp released this month.
Public comment on the original rule was lukewarm, so I suspect there won’t be much backlash to the Biden administration’s proposed change. But any sportsmen or other citizen interested in more information or submitting a formal comment on the proposal, pro or con, can do so here by July 23.