Sportsmen’s Act gets resurrected in Senate

Washington — A comprehensive package of outdoors-related items was unveiled last month by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, along with five co-sponsors. Known as the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act, the bill includes funding for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, expansion of public shooting ranges, greater access to public lands and other provisions.

It’s not the first dance for this legislation which, following its most recent introduction, died during last year’s session. Prior versions also flopped. Supporters hope this year’s introduction in the U.S. Senate bodes better for the bill than past efforts following House introduction. Further, the bill shouldn’t be hindered by what conservation leaders termed “election-year politics.”

Indeed, one “poison pill” amendment last summer would’ve attached a domestic violence amendment to the 2014 Sportsmen’s Act – because the bill, which would increase shooting opportunity, came at a time when Congress had failed to adequately address gun violence, two senators offered.

Several conservation groups chimed in, giving the legislation – a collection of a number of bills, actually – a thumbs up.

“On behalf of the nearly one million supporters and volunteers of Ducks Unlimited located in every state across the country, we thank Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico, who also introduced the bill) for their bipartisan leadership on behalf of our nation’s sportsmen and women,” said Margaret Everson, Ducks Unlimited chief policy officer, in a press release.

The prize within the legislation for DU was the recommendation to fund the North American Wetlands Conservation Act at $50 million each year through 2020.

That would be a slight uptick in funding from past years to NAWCA, which provides grants for wildlife habitat work. Project partners provide matching funds.

Since 1990, according to DU, more than 2,400 projects have received approximately $1.3 billion in grant funding. That’s an average of around $50 million each year. 

Also, partners have contributed about $2.7 billion in matching funds, resulting in the conservation of some 27.5 million acres of habitat.

But there’s much more to the Sportsmen’s Act – a total of 13 provisions, actually.

A few were highlighted by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership in a press statement.

As a general guideline, federal agency officials (including the Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Park Service) are directed to identify opportunities for recreational shooting on federal public land, and are told to consider how management plans affect opportunities to engage in hunting and fishing.

Also in the bill language:

  • Making Public Lands Public: Requires that 1.5 percent of annual Land and Water Conservation Fund monies be made available to secure public access to existing federal lands that have restricted access to hunting, fishing, and other recreational activities.
  • the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Establishment Act: Would reauthorize the NFWF, a nonprofit that preserves and restores native wildlife species and habitats.
  • the Hunt Unrestricted on National Treasures, or HUNT Act: Would identify and plan for opening access to landlocked public lands.Regarding hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting, the National Rifle Association, a supporter of the bill, offered this:

“This important provision clarifies that ammunition, ammunition components, and fishing equipment are exempt from regulation by the Environment Protection Agency under the Toxic Substances Control Act,” the NRA said in a press release. “This provision is necessary because anti-hunting extremist groups have filed multiple petitions with the EPA to ban fishing sinkers and the use of lead ammunition for all purposes – not just hunting. Those petitions have been rejected, but the groups use the administrative rejections as an excuse to sue the agency in pursuit of the same restrictions.”

TRCP president and CEO Whit Fosburgh said the bill provides opportunities for sportsmen, whose contribution to the economy each year is substantial.

“Hunting and angling in the United States depend on the conservation of important fish and wildlife habitat and ample opportunities for the public to access that habitat,” Fosburgh said in a statement. “This bill would realize both of those objectives while also ensuring strong, reliable authorization for key management programs.”

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