In March and April, bi-partisan majorities in the House Natural Resources Committee and the full U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 4089, the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act of 2012. The most significant fishing, hunting, and shooting legislation passed in the last 15 years, the bill included two primary features: (1) confirmation of federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rulings that the agency does not have authority to ban lead in ammunition or fishing gear and (2) game changing new law establishing that Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service lands (totaling more than 700 million acres of public lands) are open to fishing, hunting, and shooting unless and until the agencies take specific action to impose closures or restrictions. And closures and restrictions must be necessary and based on sound science and evidence.
Now it’s the U.S. Senate’s turn. Unfortunately the gridlocked upper chamber is highly unlikely to allow the bill to pass as a stand alone bill (i.e., going through committee to the Senate floor). Instead, the fishing and hunting community is working together to add a Sportsmen’s Heritage package to the pending Senate Farm Bill – S. 3240.
Today, the precise content of this Sportsmen’s package remains unresolved. Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and John Thune (R-SD), the Senate chairmen of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, have put together a set of fishing/hunting/shooting bills – Amendment No. 2231 – to be added to the Farm Bill. This amendment package includes the important provision protecting traditional ammunition and fishing gear. And the need for this protection was demonstrated anew by yet another lawsuit just filed by the usual suspects (Center for Biological Diversity et al.) to force EPA to ban traditional ammunition, lead fishing sinkers, etc.
Unfortunately, the Tester/Thune Amendment does not include the other cornerstone provision of the House bill – making BLM and Forest public lands open until closed to fishing/hunting/shooting. Intransigent opposition from some environmentalists and anti-hunting interests, coupled with continuing opposition from Senate Committee Chairs, kept the “open until closed” designation out of the Amendment.
This language is absolutely critical to the future of hunting, fishing and recreational shooting on public land. Without it, anti-hunting groups will continue to bring one frivolous lawsuit after another to prevent lands from being opened to sportsmen, bleeding the agencies dry of money, and making them much more reluctant to make new opportunities available. The “Open Until Closed” language puts a stop to this nonsense, and that is what USSA is unwilling to let it be left out without a fight.
Fortunately some of our best friends in the U.S. Senate, Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Jim Risch (R-ID) are supporting us in this effort. This morning Senators Murkowski and Manchin dropped in Amendment No. 2423 seeking to add the “open until closed” language to the Caucus Amendment. We will be working hard to secure Senate passage of “open until closed,” along with the crucial EPA lead provision, as part of the overall Sportsmen’s package. And individual anglers, hunters, and shooters need to be pressing their Senators – immediately – to strongly support the Murkowski-Manchin amendment (No. 2423) as well as the Tester/Thune amendment (No. 2231).
The outlook is fuzzy. There are over 200 other proposed amendments to the Farm Bill. Senate Leadership may not allow amendments to be offered. Or they may not allow the Senate to consider the Tester/Thune package or the Murkowski-Manchin amendment. Because the Farm Bill carries a nearly $1 trillion price tag, and includes programs like increases in food stamps, the whole bill may not pass at all.
USSA’s plan is to stay focused on the hunter-friendly amendments and get them through the Senate in some manner shape or form. We’re convinced that will set the stage for negotiations with the House leadership (Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) yielding a final version of H.R. 4089 that will protect traditional ammunition and protect fishing, hunting, and shooting on BLM and Forest public lands.
Now is the time for sportsmen and women to act. Get on the phone, email or fax machine and tell your Senators to support Murkowski-Manchin (Amendment No. 2423) and the Tester-Thune Amendment (No. 2231) to protect hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting on public lands. You can find their phone numbers by using the USSA Legislative Action Center.