On August 10, the U.S. Senate passed a $1 trillion infrastructure bill that will directly affect hunters and anglers across the country. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which received bipartisan support, includes funding earmarked specifically for conservation and environmental remediation projects, as well as infrastructure improvements that could improve public land access in many places.
“Now more than ever, we appreciate the diligent, bipartisan process undertaken by the Senate to develop a legislative package that both reauthorizes critical programs and takes additional steps to acknowledge the relationship between infrastructure and our natural environment,” Whit Fosburgh, Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) President said in a press release.
“This infrastructure package is a huge deal for public lands, public waters, and public wildlife,” added Backcountry Hunters & Anglers President Land Tawney.
How Exactly Would the Infrastructure Bill Affect Hunters and Anglers?
The wide-ranging infrastructure package is focused primarily on updating and improving transportation and utility initiatives such as rebuilding the country’s deteriorating roads and bridges and funding broadband projects. That said, the bill set aside a significant amount of spending that is especially relevant to outdoorsmen and women. Here’s what you need to know:
- The bill allocates $350 million to fund a wildlife-friendly roadway crossings program. Wildlife bridges are known to reduce animal-vehicle collisions, improving safety, not just for animals, but also for humans. The pilot program would increase the presense of this type of infrastructurea and study its effectiveness.
- The act puts $250 million towards the Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation Program, which improves access on Forest Service managed lands. It also limits habitat destruction caused by deteriorating roads.
- The bill reauthorizes the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, which provides valuable grant funds to states and wildlife agencies for fishery projects, boating access, and aquatic education.
- A whopping $14.65 billion goes toward the Clean Water State Revolving Fund Program, which funds estuary restoration, stormwater management, and more. This program directly improves water quality and fish habitat—making life better for anglers.
- The bill also authorizes $11.29 billion for the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund and earmarks $3 billion for a new abandoned hardrock mine cleanup program. These funding componenets will likely reduce water pollution from abandoned mines, as well as potentially create more elk and deer habitat through the cleanup of old coal mines.
What Are Some of The Bill’s Drawbacks?
Though the bill is generally considered a boon for conservation, some conservation groups have pointed out several opportunities where the lawmakers missed opportunities to push forward conservation initiatives. Here’s what they are:
- In February, Representative Mike Simpson of Idaho released an infrastructure proposal that would have led to the removal of dams on the Lower Snake River, while concurrently providing funding for regional infrastructure alternatives to help steelhead and salmon populations. This proposal was notably left off the table.
- The $350 million funding allocated to wildlife roadway crossings is a small step forward, but significantly more funding is needed to improve habitat connectivity across the country.
- The package does not include any significant funding for private-land conservation programs.
The Bill Still Needs to Be Approved by the House
The bill is unlikely to be implemented for some time. Though the bill passed the Senate with a resounding bipartisan 69-30 vote, it still faces hurdles in the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and nearly 100 Democrats have vowed not to consider the infrastructure package until the Senate acts on a $3.5 trillion social policy bill. Despite calls from conservation groups for a prompt vote, the bill—and its implications for hunters and anglers—is likely to be mired in political uncertainty for at least the next few weeks.