In January of 2011, I wrote a post here at the Conservationist that asked "Are There Any Politicians Who Really Understand Sportsmen's Concerns?" Well, a year and a half later, I've got an answer to my question, and that answer is "yes."
Senator John Thune (R-South Dakota) and Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana) introduced the Sportsman's Act of 2012, a package of 19 bills to be added to the Farm Bill which is now awaiting a vote in the Senate. Take a quick look at just a few parts of the Sportsman's Act of 2012, and see if you don't agree with me that we have something to celebrate if it passes:
1. Reauthorization of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act
This is the program that Ducks Unlimited and other sportsmen's groups have fought so hard to keep alive. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website: "The North American Wetlands Conservation Act (or NAWCA) of 1989 provides matching grants to organizations and individuals who have developed partnerships to carry out wetlands conservation projects in the United States, Canada, and Mexico for the benefit of wetlands-associated migratory birds and other wildlife...
"From September 1990 through March 2011, some 4,500 partners in 2,067 projects have received more than $1.1 billion in grants. They have contributed another $2.32 billion in matching funds to affect 26.5 million acres of habitat and $1.21 billion in nonmatching funds to affect 234,820 acres of habitat."
And yes, these preserved wetlands are our duck factories and the nurseries for our fish and wildlife. But more importantly, they are also our most effective means of flood control, and our most effective natural treatment system to reduce our most serious water pollution problems. NAWCA preserves wetlands, and wetlands preserve and boost the U.S. economy.
2. Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act
This bill allows for our taxes on firearms and ammunition--the Pittman-Robertson funds--to be used to expand or create public shooting areas and target ranges. To me, this is one of the most crucial needs if we are going to preserve our hunting and shooting traditions, and with them our Second Amendment rights. Even people I know who live out in the country often have a hard time finding a safe and accessible place to shoot. Loss of access means loss of interest in the long run.
3. Making Public Lands Public Access Act
Senator Tester's own bill, which amends the Land and Water Conservation Act of 1965 to prioritize access to public lands, and solve public land access problems. In a conference with reporters this week, Senator Tester told the Great Falls Tribune, "When I talk to hunters and fishers, their biggest concern is access to public lands. This is a big deal. If we get it through, I think it's a real step in the right direction. It's an incredible issue for our economy in a state like Montana."
4. The Hunting, Fishing and Recreational Shooting Protection Act
This would exclude ammunition and fishing tackle from the Toxic Substances Control Act, leaving decisions about regulating lead used in ammo and tackle to state wildlife agencies and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service instead of the Environmental Protection Agency.
5. Reauthorization of the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program
Over two-thirds of all critical wildlife and fish habitat in our country is on private property, and the Partners program was established in 1987 to assist landowners with restoring healthy creeks, wetlands, grasslands and forests on their lands. The cost-share program focuses on improving wetland, riparian, in-stream, fish passage, sage-steppe, grassland and aquatic habitats that provide benefits to migratory birds, threatened or endangered species, and other sensitive and declining species.
The Sportsman's Act of 2012 includes components of the Sportsmen's Heritage Act of 2012, which the House of Representatives passed in April and seems, so far, to have heavy support from both Republicans and Democrats. We'll keep you posted as to how it fares in the Senate. Here's a press release from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation partnership with more information.