There may still be light at the end of the tunnel for sportsmen who want to persuade Congress to pass legislation that protects hunting, fishing and recreational shooting on federal lands. Frustrated by an unending barrage of anti-hunting lawsuits aimed at closing the gates to sportsmen and women, the hunting community has united behind a series of provisions aimed at clarifying what once was thought to be a given: hunters, anglers and shooters (the most prominent supporters of wildlife conservation in America) belong on federal land where hunting, fishing and recreational shooting can take place.
A centerpiece provision of the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act, HR 4089, passed recently by the U.S. House of Representatives, provided that approximately 700 million acres of federal public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service shall be open to hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting unless the agencies take specific action, supported by evidence, to close or restrict those activities. This “open until closed” approach would be a game changer protecting hunting, fishing, and shooting and blocking lawsuits by anti-hunting activists to close such lands.
Although the House passed this bill with broad bi-partisan support, getting the Senate to act has been difficult. Committee chairmen there have blocked hearings on the bill and an effort to add a compromise amendment to the Farm Bill was blocked by the Senate leadership.
U. S. Sportsmen’s Alliance (USSA) and our sporting community have been looking for alternative ways to enact the game changing “open until closed” designation. We talked with the House Natural Resources Committee leadership about other legislative avenues. It turns out that the Natural Resources Committee leadership worked with the Appropriations Committee that produces the annual government funding (or appropriations) bills to see if a similar provision can be made part of an essential funding bill. The result is section 438 of the Interior Department/ U.S. Forest Service/Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) appropriations bill just reported by House Interior/EPA Appropriations Subcommittee. Section 438 bars BLM and the Forest Service from spending any money to impose or enforce hunting, fishing, or shooting closures unless the closures were in place in 2011 per adopted resource management plans. New temporary closures of up to 120 days are allowed under special circumstances.
House leadership hopes to get this funding bill, and section 438, passed during July. That will put the ball back in the hands of Senate leadership giving them yet another opportunity to show that they are willing to take action to protect our sporting heritage on federal public lands.
To give this important protection a fighting chance, sportsmen need to contact their U.S. Representative to ask for support of Section 438 of the Interior Appropriations Bill. To find contact information for your Representative, visit the USSA Legislative Action Center