On May 25, the U.S. House of Representatives joined the U.S. Senate in an effort to improve the accessibility of existing federal lands with limited or no public access. The House and Senate versions of the NRA-backed Making Public Lands Public Act (H.R. 1997 and S. 901, respectively) have the potential to open hundreds of thousands of acres of federal public land to hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreational activities.
The House version, introduced by Reps. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), Mike Ross (D-Ark.), Bob Latta (R-Ohio) and Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), and the Senate version, introduced by Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and James Risch (R-Idaho), would require the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to utilize 1.5 percent, or a minimum of $10 million annually, of their Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) budgets for projects that secure public access to existing federal lands. Improved access would be achieved through easements, rights-of-way, or fee title acquisitions from willing sellers.
“Coupled with bipartisan congressional support and the support of over 40 hunting, fishing, and conservation groups, this bill is a win for all—the sportsman, the land management agencies, and the willing private land owner,” said Miller. “At no additional cost to the taxpayer, this legislation, which would provide increased land access, will afford the hunters, anglers, recreational shooters and all in the sportsmen community the opportunity to continue to enjoy the great outdoors.”
The LWCF was created to receive payments from offshore oil and gas leases. Every year Congress gives money from this fund to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to buy land. NRA made the case to Congress that money from this fund should be used to ensure that those lands already purchased are accessible to the public.
“The public should be able to enjoy public lands,” said Ross. “This bill will help ensure the proper balance between conserving our public lands, promoting wildlife management and providing more Americans access to enjoy some of our nation's most beautiful places. This is a win-win, commonsense piece of legislation.”
A 2004 report to the House Appropriations Committee concluded that nearly 36 million acres of USFS and BLM lands have inadequate access, largely due to the fact that they are surrounded by private land. Federal public lands are an important destination for millions of American hunters, anglers, trappers, recreational shooters and other outdoor enthusiasts. Nearly half of all hunters, for example, conduct a portion of their hunting activity on these lands. Lack of access is cited as a primary reason that many hunters stop hunting.
“Unlocking public lands is vital to our great American traditions of hunting and fishing; that’s why this legislation is an important step in improving and opening access to restricted federal lands,” said Latta.
Last August, similar language passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a 404-1 vote as part of H.R. 3534, the Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources (CLEAR) Act, but that legislation expired before it could be acted on by the Senate.
In a letter to their colleagues in the House seeking co-sponsors for the bill, Reps. Miller and Ross stressed the importance of improving access to our nation’s public lands.
“Accessing public land via private land has been a historic problem with landlocked federal lands; when federal lands were established, they often were comingled with private lands,” Miller and Ross wrote. “For the over 30 million sportsmen in the United States, federal lands are an increasingly important destination for hunting, fishing, and other recreational activity. Unfortunately, there are millions of acres of Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service land that have inadequate access. This lack of access not only poses a challenge to sportsmen, but creates management inefficiencies and increases costs for the land management agencies.”
H.R. 1997 enjoys the support of more than 40 hunting, fishing, and conservation groups, including the NRA, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Safari Club International, Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Boone and Crockett Club, and the National Wild Turkey Federation. These groups are allies in the American Wildlife Conservation Partners (AWCP), which launched the “Making Public Lands Public: Enhancing Hunter & Other Recreational Access to Federal Public Lands” initiative two years ago.
In a letter to Congress in support of the Making Public Lands Public Act earlier this month, the AWCP partners urged members to sign-on and support the legislation. The letter states that “Allowing federal agencies to identify and prioritize smaller parcels on the boundaries of federal lands that provide public access for hunting and other nature-based recreation is common sense policy. Directing a modest portion of LWCF funds to secure those parcels would help the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior maximize the value of their existing federal land holdings.”
To read the full text of H.R. 1997, click here. NRA also asks that you please contact your local members of Congress and urge them to support H.R. 1997 and S. 901.
Bill Introduced to Improve Access to Federal Lands