Sportsman’s Act bill fizzles

Washington — The National Shooting Sports Foundation called it “the most important package of measures for the benefit of sportsmen in a generation.” The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership dubbed it a “historic piece of legislation.” Even its name – the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2014 – implies widespread appeal.

So why, like 2012 when a similar bill fizzled, did the somewhat more politically palatable federal legislation (45 co-sponsors) aimed at increasing hunting, fishing, and shooter access, as well as a host of other measures, meet its demise earlier this month?

Like other recent bills that enjoyed bipartisan support only to fall victim to policial maneuvering, it’s likely because members of Congress attempted to add “poison pill”-type amendments to the sportsmen’s bill, according to Steve Kline, director of government relations for the TRCP – items upon which one party wishes to vote and the other does not. Amendments, too, that involved politically sensitive topics.

In this case, possible amendments bandied about included gun control, Clean Water Act guidance, sage grouse and possible Endangered Species Act listing, and the Keystone XL pipeline plan.

This time around (it languished and died in 2012 in the Senate) the bill included just 12 of the 17 provisions of the last bill. Eliminated, Kline said, was one provision that helped doom the previous bill: increasing the price of the federal duck stamp, presumably from its current $15 cost (since 1991) to $25.

Some of the highlights of this bill, the TRCP says, included:

• A permanent electronic duck stamp, a follow-up to a pilot program that’s been in place in a few states for a number of years.
• Permitting the secretary of the Interior to authorize permits for re-importation of previously legally harvested polar bears from approved populations in Canada before a 2008 ban.
• Requiring federal land managers (Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service) to consider how land management plans affect hunting, fishing and recreational shooting opportunities.
• Reauthorizing the North American Wetlands Conservation Act through at least 2018.
• Exempting lead tackle from being regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

In February, the U.S. House passed a similar but less extensive bill – the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act, or SHARE.

Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow was a co-sponsor of the Senate bill, which was sponsored by Reps. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

Chris W. Cox, executive director of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action, said in a prepared statement the NRA was “disappointed that the bipartisan Sportsmen’s bill has fallen victim to Sen. Harry Reid's political agenda. By refusing to allow a reasonable amendment process, Sen. Reid effectively killed this legislation – a bill with substantive measures that would have enriched America’s hunting and sporting heritage.”

Kline said before the bill died that ultimately, “If it doesn’t get done this week, I think we’re pretty much toast.” Introducing the bill for a third time to a new Congress next year would be an even greater challenge than the recent attempt. He added that the lame-duck session of Congress this year could be less productive than usual.

“The third time would be really heavy lifting,” Kline said.

(New York Outdoor News Editor Steve Piatt contributed to this story.)

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