February 19, 2013
New Bill Addresses Objections to Last Year’s Sportsmen’s Heritage Act
By Bob Marshall
Of all the attributes that an effective conservation lobbyist needs, persistence may be the most important. This is one profession where “if at first you don’t succeed try, try again” isn’t a cliché, it’s a fact of life.
That can be seen in the latest attempt to have Congress assure that recreational access and opportunities in the backcountry have at least equal footing to other public interests. Last year, sportsmen’s groups made a run at that goal with two “sportsmen’s heritage” bills, both of which ran into objections from other interests.
So this year they “try, try again” with the “Hunting and Fishing Heritage and Opportunities Act” (S.170) sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and co-sponsored by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY). This second effort includes changes to the parts of last year’s bills other parties found problematic. The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, representing most sportsmen’s groups, outlined those changes:
- Wilderness language: S.170 corrects the wilderness-related language that caused so much concern in the last Congress, It requires that wilderness areas and wilderness study areas be open to hunting and fishing, but clarifies that “nothing in this paragraph authorizes or requires motorized access or the use of motorized vehicles for recreational fishing, hunting, or recreational shooting purposes within land designated as a wilderness study area or administratively classified as wilderness eligible or suitable.” S.170 also forbids agencies from leasing or permitting federal land in the Wilderness Preservation System for shooting ranges.
- NEPA exemption: Both the House and Senate versions of this bill in the 112th had National Environmental Policy Act exemption language that gave some conservation groups heartburn. It stated that any action taken under the legislation is not to be considered a major federal action and therefore is not subject to NEPA review. This language is not present in S.170.
- Evaluation requirement: S.170 would require the agencies to include a “specific evaluation of the effects of [planning documents] on opportunities to engage in recreational fishing, hunting, or recreational shooting.” Previous legislation only required that planning documents “provide for opportunities to engage in hunting, recreational fishing, and recreational shooting.”
- Closure reporting/1280-acre rule: S.170 requires that federal agencies report to the House and Senate Natural Resource Committees every other year describing federal land that was closed to hunting, fishing and shooting activities, and justifying the decision to close it. Agencies must also 1) publish appropriate notice 2) demonstrate coordination with State Fish and Wildlife Agencies and 3) submit notice to the NR committees if they plan to close more than 1,280 contiguous or aggregate acres of federal land to hunting and fishing.
Of course, while those changes should help calm some of the specific objections voiced last year, sportsmen should know there were other voices opposing the bill, generally on the ground that placing fish wildlife hunting and fishing interests above those of other users isn’t the right path forward for the nation when considering public lands management.
So, just like those conservation groups championing our issues, hunters and anglers should “try, try again” by contacting their delegation and demanding support. You can find out who your congress people are, and how to contact them, at www.contactingthecongress.org.