The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act (Yes, You Read That Right) of 2014 Being Considered by Senate

It's time for sportsmen to show the same kind of citizenship and sanity that Congress is apparently now willing to display.

I know: Anyone discussing Congress's actions on conservation issues the last few years has applied the terms "sanity" or "citizenship."

But sportsmen conservation groups are reporting there is growing support from both parties in the Senate to pass the latest version of The Sportsmen's Act. The House of Representatives passed their version of the effort, the Sportsmen's Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act, in February.

In an era when budget concerns and political differences have combined to either block or squeeze so many critical fish and wildlife initiatives, this is an opportunity we simply cannot ignore. It's time to support the Act, with loud and persistent voices.

Some of the important features of the Bipartisan Sportsmen's Act of 2014 (with the current sponsors in italics) include:
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- Permanent Electronic Duck Stamp Act of 2013 (S.738)**
Lead Sponsor: Senator Wicker / Cosponsors: Pryor, Baucus, Cochran

Would allow states to provide federal duck stamps electronically. E-duck stamps are valid for 45 days to allow time for the physical stamps to arrive in the mail. Amounts collected from the sale of duck stamps are deposited in the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund and used without further appropriation for waterfowl conservation projects.

- Recreational Fishing and Hunting Heritage Opportunities Act (S.170)
Lead Sponsor: Senator Murkowski / Cosponsors: Manchin, Barrasso, Portman, Enzi, Risch, Crapo, Thune, Vitter, Heller, Hoeven, Flake, Wicker

Requires federal land managers to consider how management plans affect hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting. The bill also requires the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service to keep lands open to hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting, and facilitate the use of and access to federal public lands and waters for these activities.

- Hunting, Fishing and Recreational Shooting Protection Act (S.1505)
Lead Sponsor: Senator Thune / Cosponsors: Klobuchar, Hagan, Boozman, Cochran, Enzi, Rubio

Exempts lead fishing tackle from being regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act, leaving the existing authority to state fish and game agencies and the FWS. The EPA has denied petitions to regulate tackle and ammo under TSCA in 1994 and again in 2011.

- Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act (S.1212)
Lead Sponsor: Senator T. Udall / Cosponsors: Risch, Bennet, Hagan, Klobuchar, Tester, Barrasso, Crapo, Thune, Begich, Pryor, Enzi, Heller, Murkowski, King

Enables states to allocate a greater proportion of federal funding to create and maintain shooting ranges on federal and non-federal lands. States will be allowed to access these funds for longer period of time, and the bill encourages federal land agencies to cooperate with state and local authorities to maintain shooting ranges.

- North American Wetlands Conservation Act Reauthorization (S.741)
Lead Sponsor: Senator Vitter / Cosponsors: Baucus, Blunt, Boozman, Boxer, Cardin, Cochran, Coons, Crapo, Inhofe, Johnson, Landrieu, Portman, Whitehouse, Wicker

Reauthorizes NAWCA through fiscal year 2017. NAWCA provides matching grants to organizations, state and local governments, and private landowners for the acquisition, restoration, and enhancement of wetlands critical to the habitat of migratory birds. Over the last 20 years, this program has funded over 1,600 projects that conserved more than 20 million acres of wetlands across North America. NAWCA is also cost-effective, with every dollar of federal funding traditionally generating three dollars in non-federal money.
The bill reduces the annual authorization level to $40 million a year, $4 million more than the average amount appropriated for NAWCA over the last six years.

- National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Reauthorization (S.51)
Lead Sponsor: Senator Boxer / Cosponsors: T. Udall, Tester, Baucus, Whitehouse, Cardin, Vitter, Roberts, Cochran, Stabenow, Collins, Landrieu

Reauthorizes the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), a non-profit entity that preserves and restores native wildlife species and habitats. NFWF directs public conservation dollars to pressing environmental needs and matches those investments with private funds. Since its establishment, NFWF has awarded over 11,600 grants to more than 4,000 organizations in the United States, investing a total of $2 billion for conservation. The bill authorizes $25 million annually between FY2014 and FY2019.

- Polar Bear Conservation and Fairness Act (S.847)
Lead Sponsor: Senator Crapo / Cosponsor: Barrasso
Permits the Secretary of the Interior to authorize permits for re-importation of legally harvested Polar Bears from approved populations in Canada before the 2008 ban.

- Farmer and Hunter Protection Act
Lead Sponsor: Senator Pryor / Cosponsors: Boozman, Cochran, Landrieu

Authorizes USDA extension offices to determine normal agricultural practices rather than the Fish and Wildlife Service. Baiting migratory birds with grain is illegal and can result in fines up to $10,000 and the halting of hunting on the grounds considered baited. Normal agricultural practices are not considered baiting. This bill aims to set clear criteria on what constitutes "normal agricultural practices" by having the FWS refer to local USDA extension offices for the determination.

- Making Public Lands Public
Stand-alone bill hasn't been introduced in the Senate.

Requires 1.5 percent of annual LWCF funding be made available to secure -- through rights-of-way, the acquisition of lands, or interests from willing sellers -- recreational public access to existing federal lands that have significantly restricted access to hunting, fishing, and other recreational activities.

- Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act Reauthorization (S.368)
Lead Sponsor: Senator Heinrich / Cosponsors: Heller, Baucus, Bennet, Crapo, Tester, M. Udall, T.Udall, Wyden

This bill permanently reauthorizes FLTFA, a program that enables the Bureau of Land Management to sell public land to private owners, counties, companies and others for ranching, community development, and other projects.

At least 80 percent of funds from the sale or exchange of public land must be used to acquire high priority lands. Revenue would be generated for funding the program through the sale of lands in both current and future BLM Resource Management Plans (RMP) rather than only those in place on the date of reauthorization. This "Land for Land" approach creates jobs and generates funding for BLM, USFS, NPS and USFWS to acquire critical in-holdings from willing sellers.

All of those actions are supported by every major hunting, fishing and sportsmen's conservation group in the country - and have been for several years. But previous attempts to get these measures to the president's desk have been scuttled, usually by petty political bickering that had little or nothing to do with these issues.

But sportsmen's groups kept fighting because they know the importance of the conservation measure sin this package. Frankly, when they announced their latest drive earlier this year, there was plenty of precedent for pessimism. But the momentum those dogged efforts generated earlier this year seems to be continuing.

Now it's time for the rest of us to step up and help them finish the job. The best way to do that is to let your senators know you personally support the package - and you're watching their votes. You can find their email addresses at contactingthecongress.org.