Farm Bill letter, Mille Lacs dispute, and the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act

Rob DriesleinA quick grab bag of bloggy items from your humble managing editor.

Farm Bill letter from groups

The commentary slot (Page 2) in this week’s print edition of Outdoor News contained a letter urging U.S. House and Senate leadership to support a strong conservation title in the 2012 Farm Bill. More than 500 organizations signed the letter, but at the end, I only had space to list some of the big ones that Minnesota readers might recognize.

You can see the full letter and the complete list of national, state and local organizations that signed it here.

Letter from DNR to bands regarding Mille Lacs fishery

Big news this week for folks who have followed the 1837 Treaty lawsuit and resulting management of the Ceded Territory the past 20 years. Since the story broke that the DNR would challenge portions of the bands’ new five-year plan, Dennis Anderson has written about it twice in the Star Tribune. My column in the print edition of Outdoor News focused exclusively on this topic, and Tim Spielman has a long story about it, too, which you can read here.

The starting point for these stories is a June 11 letter that DNR Fisheries sent to the bands outlining their concerns with band fishing methodologies and protocols.

For those of you who truly can’t get enough of Mille Lacs issues and treaty debate, here’s the Chippewa’s Treaty Fisheries Plan for the next five years.

Expect ample coverage of how this dispute will shake out during the treaty technical committee meeting(s) in July, and beyond.

Sportsmen’s Heritage Act

I’m naturally cynical of any legislation with a title that sounds too good to be true.  Therefore, I was somewhat skeptical of the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act until the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partner gave it the thumbs-up earlier this year. The TRCP hasn’t steered me wrong yet on any national policy, and I trust the group’s judgment on matters of conservation.
For more background, Tim Spielman wrote about the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act back in May.

The U.S. House passed its version (HF4089) of the Heritage Act on April 17, but this week, some wilderness advocates were claiming the bill could mean rampant, or at least additional, motorized use in the nation’s wilderness areas.

Kevin Proescholdt, conservation director of Montana-based Wilderness Watch and former head of Friends of the Boundary Waters told Dennis Lien of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, “I think it’s probably the most serious threat to the Wilderness Act since it passed in 1964.”

Now, I’ve long believed in multiple-use public lands where motorized users – hunters and otherwise – can have their fun. But I’m protective of the BWCA and other wilderness country where I, and thousands of others, enjoy challenging ourselves with a little self-propulsion. If I thought the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act would threaten the solitude, quiet, and generally untrampled vibe of the nation’s wilderness areas, I’d oppose it.

So I called Bill Horn, director of federal affairs for the Ohio-based U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, for his take. USSA has been a staunch advocate for the bill and a good source for Outdoor News through the years. Horn insists the Act will not mean additional motorized use in wilderness areas. He’s frustrated by the opposition and says the bill has been carefully drafted to correct some bad rulings that have come from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Those rulings, USSA says, had an adverse effect on nonmotorized use within the nation’s wilderness areas.

“The language that corrects that does nothing to open to motorized use,” said Horn, who noted the support of TRCP.

So I called the TRCP’s Tom Franklin, senior director of science and policy, to reiterate his organization’s position on the bill.

Like me, he says TRCP doesn’t want to see wilderness compromised by inappropriate mechanized use, but the group likes the bill’s general emphasis, demanding more attention and weight to prioritizing hunting and fishing on public lands.

After the House version passed, Franklin said, TRCP reviewed it, and the group found it does have some concerns that the language is a bit too ambiguous regarding wilderness. The organization focused on the Senate version and has supported a proposed amendment to the 2012 Farm Bill that would eliminate that ambiguity.

“We would certainly want to have some language to reduce that ambiguity to ensure wilderness areas aren’t impacted by motorized recreation,” Franklin said.

Unfortunately this week, that amendment, sponsored by Sens. Jon Tester of Montana and John Thune of South Dakota, was excluded from consideration. Franklin and TRCP hope to find another way to move that language, but now he believes the bill has little possibility of becoming law in this Congress.

“They likely won’t attach it to the Farm Bill, and there are not a lot of vehicles to move this, so I would say it’s unlikely that it will pass this year,” Franklin said.

I don’t think most supporters of this bill want more motorized use in the nation’s wilderness areas, so I would simply urge supporters to make sure – 100 percent – that’s clear in the final version of the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act, whenever it passes.

Categories: Rob Drieslein

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