You and I are locked out of close to 35 million acres of our land. We can’t get to it. Roads are blocked, access points are closed, and sometimes there’s even a guy in a black cowboy hat standing at the gate with a menacing scowl.
That ain’t right, but things are about to change.
On Thursday, Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) announced that he had pulled together 20 provisions designed to increase access to public lands, help fund new shooting ranges on public land, reauthorize critical wildlife programs, and keep the EPA out of the hunting and angling business.
In some ways the Farm Bill is similar to H.R. 4089, the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act. For example, it would keep the EPA from regulating lead shot and bullets. But overall, the two pieces of legislation are quite different. Other provisions in the Amendment directly impact our abilities to access the areas where we hunt and fish. Tester has included his “Making Public Lands Public” bill, which would permanently secure 1.5 percent of all Land and Water Conservation Fund monies exclusively for increasing access to public lands.
Tester’s amendment will also include the Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act, which will amend the Pittman/Roberts act to allow for the use of PR funds to construct shooting ranges.
The troubling provisions, like the attack on the Antiquities Act, and the vague language regarding wilderness areas have been removed. That’s even better news.
Tester announced that Senator John Thune (R-SD) is co-sponsoring the bill, and they have the support of the National Rifle Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and other groups that were pushing for the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act.
Some of the provisions in the bill:
The Hunting, Fishing and Recreational Shooting Protection Act
This section specifically excludes ammo and fishing tackle from the Toxic Substances Control Act, leaving decisions about tackle to State Fish and Game Agencies and the Fish and Wildlife Service, who currently regulate ammo and tackle. The EPA has denied petitions to regulate tackle and ammo under TSCA in 1994 and again in 2011. This codifies that the EPA does not have the ability to regulate tackle. This includes a savings clause for local, state and other federal regulations.
Making Public Lands Public
This section requires that the 1.5 percent of annual LWCF funding is made available to secure, through rights-of-way, or the acquisition of lands, or interests from willing sellers, recreational public access to existing federal public lands that have significantly restricted access to hunting, fishing, and other recreational purposes. Access is the number one issue for Sportsmen. Finding places to recreate and the loss of access are the top reason sportsmen stop hunting and fishing. In an agency report to Congress (in 2003) found 35 million acres of public land had inadequate access.
Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act
This section amends the Pittman-Robertson Act by adjusting the funding limitations. This allows states more funds available for a longer period of time for the creation and maintenance of shooting ranges. The bill encourages federal land agencies to cooperate with state and local authorities to maintain shooting ranges and limits liability for these agencies.
North American Wetlands Conservation Act Reauthorization (NAWCA)
This section reauthorizes the North American Wetlands Conservation Act for another five years. NAWCA is a voluntary land-owner friendly initiative that uses incentives to provide valuable matching grants that leverage federal dollars to protect habitat that is critically important for migratory birds, such as ducks and other wildlife. Over the last 20 years, NAWCA has completed more than 2,000 conservation project to protect 26.5 million acres of habitat. This program has more than 4,500 partners and has leveraged nearly 3 dollars for every dollar spent by the federal government.
Partners for Fish and Wildlife
This provision reauthorizes the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program through 2017. The program works in a non-regulatory, cooperative fashion to help private landowners with habitat restoration on their property. This cost-share program focuses on improving wetland, riparian, in-stream, fish passage, sage-steppe, grassland, and aquatic habitats that provide benefits to migratory birds, threatened or endangered species, and other sensitive and declining species.
In a time where to political climate in Washington is hotter than Tuscon in August, it’s a great day to be able to say: “You guys got it right. Now pass the amendment, and let’s get back to arguing over which fly is better” The NRA, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership have all endorsed this effort, you should too.