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Addressing Hunger: Why Don Young's Third Attempt at the Wild Game Donation Act Deserves Attention

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Photo by Zach D Roberts

Alaska is home to many – how would one put it succinctly? – uncommon occurrences: eagles run amok in department stores, people break out into fits of fish-slapping, and have to deny hallucinating wolves while stranded in the wild. We live in a place often as absurd as it is majestic.
Sometimes the odd occurrences necessitate even odder fixes, which must seem ludicrous to people peering in from Outside.
One such amazing tale came out of Galena last week. The small, isolated interior village of about 400 Alaskans has been put through hell:

[R]esidents were evacuated last spring because of flooding caused by a Yukon River ice jam that sent water into the community. No one was injured, but an estimated 180 homes were damaged and some were destroyed. Some houses were flooded to the roofs. The flooding washed out the road to the community’s landfill. It also knocked out power, bringing a number of secondary problems, including how to keep bears away from game meat that spoiled in refrigerators and freezers. Residents lost an estimated 17 tons of food such as moose, salmon, bear, geese, ducks and berries. After the flooding, many residents were too busy rebuilding their homes to replenish their freezers.

It was a tragic and incredibly unlikely series of unfortunate events, followed by a uniquely Alaskan response: a donation of 2,300 pounds of fresh moose meat contributed by the Alaska Moose Federation, a nonprofit that collects fresh roadkill and turns it over to charities to distribute where food is needed.
Incredible.
And nutritious. Moose meat is high in protein, vitamin B12, iron, and zinc, while low in calories. That shames most of the readily available items food stamps or can drives will deliver.
Earlier this month, Representative Don Young reintroduced “The Wild Game Donation Act of 2013,” (H.R.3728) for the third time. Companion legislation was introduced in the Senate back in June, sponsored by New York Senator Chuck Schumer, with Senators Begich and Murkowski listed as cosponsors.
Current state law in Alaska (and several other states) allows “traditional wild game meat, seafood, plants, and other food” to be “donated to a food service of an institution or a nonprofit program,” so long as the food meets certain safety requirements.
Young’s proposal would extend what Alaska is already doing to the federal level, but with an added incentive. H.R. 3728 would also change the tax code so that wild game would be recognized as a charitable donation, and thus would be tax deductible. This would include processing fees, which can often soar past the thousand-dollar mark when dealing with large game like bear and moose.
It makes sense. And recognizing processing fees as part of the donation (which, in application, it should be) is a huge incentive to would-be contributors who struggle with a pay-to-play model for their food donations to the hungry.
The Alaska Moose Federation isn’t the only infrastructure for wild game contributions. Wisconsin hosts “Hunt for the Hungry,” a religious sportsmen group who claims to have donated over 700 tons of game meat in their first 20 years of operation (Wisconsin Democratic representative Ron Kind is a co-sponsor of Young’s bill). In Texas, there’s the Hunter’s Harvest, with multiple drop-off locations around the state facilitating the donation of more than 168,000 pounds of wild game and fish to local charities since 2005. Those efforts may have inspired Texas Republican representative Ted Poe to sign onto the legislation. There is also the Michigan Sportsmen Against Hunger, Indiana’s Hoosiers Feeding the Hungry, and South Dakota Sportsmen Against Hunger.
Speaking with several volunteers affiliated with these organizations, off the record, I received unanimous support for the idea; three statements began with “wow.” One volunteer admitted that he generally paid for processing fees out of pocket (off the books), costing him thousands this year alone.
However, the bill  (logic and obvious net positives included) has historically been received by Congress with complete and utter inaction. The first time Young introduced the legislation in 2010 (limited initially to indigenous populations), it was tossed to the House Ways and Means Committee, where it never was granted a hearing. In 2011, it met an absolutely identical fate.
So far this year, the astronomically bipartisan bill (Don Young and Chuck Schumer are the primary sponsors in their respective chambers; just think about that along ideological lines for a moment) has repeated the tradition.
“It’s a numbers game,” Matt Shuckerou, Rep. Young’s communications director told me on Saturday, referencing the reduced legislation that passed through Congress this past session. “Sometimes these commonsense bills get looked over.”
Shuckerou added that there could be hesitancy from lawmakers who refuse to support anything that isn’t deficit neutral.
It should be disturbing that congressional gridlock has prioritized wasting game meat over feeding communities in need, simply because the bill comes with a nominal price tag to ensure the food is edible. There aren’t a lot of intersections where the NRA and child hunger organizations agree; there aren’t a lot of policy debates with seven elected Democrats and eight elected Republicans starting the conversation in agreement.
Young’s “Wild Game Donation Act” meets those ever-so-rare benchmarks. While it may not be a flashy headline or a universally understood beneficial policy, H.R. 3728 would do good; it would make sure the next time a village like Galena is hit with increasingly common weather phenomena, there are uniquely Alaskan ways to offer help.
This isn’t a fix to end hunger in America, but it’s comparable to the duct tape that at least holds your shoe together through the winter. It would be shameful not to act. Congress has met the quota on not acting. They should try something different this time around.
“This is a bill that we’re going to try to move the discussion on,” Matt Shuckerou told me. “The Congressman is going to do what he can to give it the best shot.”
I wish him luck, and hope the third time’s a charm.

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