Protection of fishing, hunting, and shooting on national forest and public lands has taken a step forward with the Senate introduction of the Recreational Fishing and Hunting Heritage and Opportunities Act. Introduced by Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), the measure is backed by the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance, American Sportfishing Association, National Rifle Association, Safari Club International, Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation, and others in the angling, hunting and wildlife conservation community.
The bill will protect fishing, hunting, trapping, recreational shooting and wildlife management practices on more than 400 million acres of public land across America managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. The measure mandates that these public lands are open until closed for angling, hunting and shooting while enabling the agencies to make specific closures or restrictions determined to be necessary and supported by sound facts and evidence. The bill is patterned after the 1997 National Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act which made fishing and hunting "priority public uses" on federal wildlife refuge system lands and has helped protect fishing and hunting there from anti-fishing/anti-hunting zealots.
The new Senate bill also fixes loopholes created by lawsuits by anti-hunting organizations that have hampered hunting, fishing and wildlife conservation. For example, under the bill, the Forest Service can keep its public lands open for hunting and fishing even if nearby state and private lands are also open. Previously, a court had ruled that federal public lands might have to be closed if other nearby lands hosted hunters. Similarly, fish and wildlife conservation and management will remain primary purposes on BLM, Forest and Wildlife Refuge lands reversing court rulings from San Francisco. Restrictions in the 1964 Wilderness Act on motorized access, logging and other commodity uses are expressly not affected by the bill and remain in place.
Bill Horn, U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance Director of Federal Affairs welcomed the introduction:
"USSA deeply appreciates today's action by Senators Murkowski and Manchin. We have been working for over a decade in support of this kind of legislation and as threats mount to fishing, hunting and shooting on public lands, the need for this bill grows. We look forward to working with the Senators and their colleagues to get this landmark measure enacted this year and ensure protection in law of our cherished angling and hunting heritage."
American Sportfishing Association added its support:
"Recreation is the single largest economic output of national forests and grasslands, with 46.5 million anglers spending over $1.2 billion annually to enjoy recreational fishing on USFS lands," said Gordon Robertson, Vice President of the ASA. "It is astounding that with such high demand, access is still a barrier for millions of anglers. This legislation directs the USFS and BLM managers to not only promote recreational fishing and hunting access, but to further take advantage of one of the biggest economic drivers for the agencies and the rural communities near their lands."
The National Rifle Association offered its strong support:
"Protecting the traditions of hunting and shooting on our public lands has long been a NRA priority and the Murkowski/Manchin bill does just that. The leadership for sportsmen and sportswomen demonstrated by the two Senators will not be forgotten by us and our members," said Susan Recce, NRA Director of Conservation.
Safari Club International also hailed the bill:
"By introducing legislation that will protect America's hunting, shooting, and fishing community for generations to come, Senators Murkowski and Manchin have taken a much needed bi-partisan step forward. Too frequently, the hunting community is dealt lip-service, but Senator Murkowski and Senator Manchin have brought to the Senate serious legislation that will protect hunting for a generation. The companion legislation introduced in the House of Representatives is equally important to the future of hunting. On behalf of SCI and all of our partners, we would like for all members of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus to co-sponsor the 'sportsmen endorsed' legislation," said President of SCI, Kevin Anderson.
Jeff Crane, President of the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation added:
"The Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus
has been working with the sportsmen's community on this Act to allow Federal land planners to evaluate the impacts that management activities have on hunting, fishing and recreational shooting, and to provide a clear analysis of how proposed actions would impact access to Federal lands."
The new Senate Bill is a companion to legislation passed by the House Natural Resources Committee 29-14. That bill, H.R. 2834, is currently awaiting a vote before the full U.S. House of Representatives.