A 19-part package of sportsmen’s bills was introduced by Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) on Thursday and may be added as an amendment to the 2012 Farm Bill, which is pending in the Senate.
This NRA-supported package, known as the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012, combines several bills already pending in the Senate and also includes components of the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act of 2012 (H.R. 4089), which passed the House in April.
Among the measures included in this package is the Making Public Lands Public Act, an NRA-backed piece of legislation that 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 public lands.
A 2004 report to the House Appropriations Committee concluded that nearly 36 million acres of federal lands are inaccessible to the public, largely because they are surrounded by private land.
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 (USFWS), National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) 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 Making Public Lands Public provision in the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 would ensure that LWCF money is set aside for the purchase of easements, rights-of-way, or fee title acquisitions from willing sellers to ensure access is available to our nation’s public lands.
“When I talk to hunters and anglers, their biggest concern is access to public lands,” said Tester. “This common-sense legislation combines the best ideas from Republicans and Democrats to ensure that the best places to hunt and fish are available to sportsmen and women.”
“I am pleased that this amendment significantly advances the cause of making public lands more accessible for multiple uses including hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreation,” said Thune. “Our amendment reauthorizes the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. This amendment also includes language that I’ve advocated for in the past which would ensure that the EPA cannot regulate the use of lead ammunition and lead in fishing gear.”
Other bills of interest to hunters that are now part of the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 include:
-- Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act: This section amends the Pittman-Robertson (P-R) Act to make it easier for states to use their P-R funding to build and maintain public shooting ranges. This bill also encourages federal land agencies to cooperate with state and local authorities to maintain shooting ranges and limits liability for these agencies.
-- Polar Bear Conservation and Fairness Act: This bill (also part of the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act of 2012) allows the Secretary of the Interior to issue import permits for legally-harvested polar bears taken by U.S. hunters from approved populations in Canada before the bears were listed as a threatened species in 2008.
-- The Hunting, Fishing and Recreational Shooting Protection Act: This section specifically excludes ammunition and fishing tackle from the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The EPA has denied petitions to regulate tackle and ammo under TSCA in 1994, 2011, and in 2012. This codifies that the EPA does not have authority to regulate ammunition components like lead shot or lead bullets, or lead fishing tackle. This bill is also part of the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act of 2012.
-- Recreational Lands Self Defense Act: This section would prohibit the Secretary of the Army from enforcing any regulation that keeps an individual from possessing firearms in Army Corps of Engineer Water Resource Development projects or facilities. The Army Corps owns 7.6 million acres and manages another 4.1 million acres, making it the largest federal provider of water-based outdoor recreation in the nation. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers property includes 400 lakes and river projects, 90,000 campsites and 4,000 miles of trails. This language would not change the current legal prohibition of guns in federal facilities, such as the Corps Headquarters, Engineering Research Facilities, and lock and dam buildings.
-- North American Wetlands Conservation Act Reauthorization: This section reauthorizes the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) for another five years. NAWCA is a voluntary landowner initiative that awards grants for wetlands conservation projects that benefit waterfowl and other wildlife.
One new provision to the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 would allow bows to be transported through national parks. Without this freedom, bowhunters who want to legally hunt on Forest Service or BLM lands cannot cross National Park Service lands in order to do so.
Absent from the Tester-Thune bill are Titles I and II of the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act of 2012. Title I, the Recreational Fishing and Hunting Heritage and Opportunities Act, would establish an “open unless closed” policy for hunting and shooting on lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and BLM. It would also ensure that lands designated “wilderness” and “primitive” remain open to hunting, fishing and shooting.
Title II, the Recreational Shooting Protection Act, would prevent the closure of national monuments managed by BLM to recreational shooting, unless the closure is approved by Congress. The impetus for this bill was BLM’s decision to close Arizona’s Ironwood Forest National Monument to recreational shooting, and BLM’s proposed closure of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert National Monument to shooting, although BLM announced last month that shooting in Sonoran Desert National Monument will continue.
Both Titles I and II of the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act continue to be supported by the NRA.
Related: NRA-ILA Grassroots Alert: http://nraila.org/legislation/federal-legislation/2012/sportsmens-act-amendment-to-be-introduced-in-us-senate.aspx