Over the past few months, the sportsmen’s community has been abuzz over the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act of 2012. Since being passed by the U.S. House in April, the U.S. Senate has been working on its own version of this pro-sportsman legislation.
Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and John Thune (R-SD) have complied a Senate version of the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act which includes a host of pro-sportsmen bills as an amendment to the 2012 Farm Bill. The amendment is packed full of great things for sportsmen including critical legislation clarifying that the U.S. EPA doesn’t have that authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act to ban lead ammunition and fishing tackle. Despite the fact the EPA has stated twice that it doesn’t have this authority, the Center for Biological Diversity and other anti-hunting groups recently filed another lawsuit seeking to force an EPA ban on traditional ammunition.
The House passed version of the bill included one landmark provision that so far isn’t included in the Senate package. This provision stated that lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are deemed open for hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting unless closed.
Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) will be offering a separate amendment to include this language with the rest of the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act in the Senate. If the Murkowski amendment is added to this already great bill it would be the icing on the cake for sportsmen.
The Murkowski amendment would be a real game-changer for protecting hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting on public lands, here’s why:
Increasing Threats to Hunting on Public Lands:
Over the years anti-hunting groups have been filing more and more lawsuits aimed at ending hunting by attacking the complex process that federal agencies must go through to open lands to hunting. Under current law, public lands are typically closed to hunting until the federal government takes action to open them.
Under this process, federal agencies are subject to lawsuits based upon small legal technicalities and without facts or evidence that justify the closure. During that process, if a “t” is not crossed or an “i” is not dotted correctly anti-hunting groups will swoop in and file a lawsuit. It doesn’t matter that there is no justifiably reason to close the land – they don’t need it.
This results in lands being closed to sportsmen and countless taxpayer and sportsmen dollars being spent to defend anti-hunting lawsuits – money that could be spent elsewhere on vital conservation programs or additional access programs for sportsmen.
How the Murkowski Amendment Protects Hunting on Public Lands:
The Murkowski amendment is critical for sportsmen as it reverses this presumption and states that U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management Lands (BLM) are open to recreational hunting, fishing, and shooting as a matter of policy, unless closed by the agency – “Open Until Closed.”
These lands include approximately 700 million acres across the country.
This “open until closed” process takes away many of the legal technicalities the anti-hunting crowd has been using against hunters. Instead of having to jump through dozens of hoops to open lands to sportsmen they are simply declared open.
However, the great thing about the Murkowski amendment is that the Forest Service and BLM retain their authority to decide what lands should be closed. Sportsmen recognize that there are some lands out there that might not be compatible for hunting. Sometimes things like national security or conservation efforts require lands to be closed. The Murkowski amendment recognizes this and allows the Forest Service and BLM to close lands based on actual facts and evidence.
Public Lands Needed for Hunter Recruitment and Retention:
We all know that hunter recruitment and retention is vitally important for the future of our heritage. Programs like Families Afield strive to ensure that new hunters can take to the field. However, without places for new hunters to go these efforts could fall short. Even the most enthusiastic new hunter can’t go hunting if there isn’t a place to go.
One of the top reasons hunters stop hunting is a lack of access to land. Land development and urban sprawl have taken many private hunting lands away. Many sportsmen rely on our public lands to go hunting. Ensuring that our public lands remain available for sportsmen is crucial to the future of hunting.
Hunting on Public Lands is Essential for Conservation Efforts:
Many of the conservation and wildlife management efforts that take place on our public lands are paid for by sportsmen through license dollars and federal excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, and other hunting and fishing gear.
Fewer public hunting lands not only could mean fewer hunters but it could mean the remaining hunters spend less time in the field. This means lower license sales and less hunting gear purchased – all equaling less money for conservation.
The Future of Hunting on Public Lands Needs Your Help!
Right now sportsmen have the opportunity to take power away from anti-hunting groups who are continually using the courts to advance their agenda. The Murkowski amendment will do just that.
Help protect hunting on public lands and the future of our hunting heritage.
Call your U.S. Senators today – Ask them to:
- Support the Tester/Thune sportsmen’s amendment (Senate amendment 2232) to the 2012 Farm Bill; and
- Support the Murkowski amendment (Senate amendment 2423) protecting hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting on public lands.
You can find their phone numbers by using USSA’s Legislative Action Center.