New Bill Will Improve, Increase Public Land Opportunities

Hunting and fishing opportunities will become a priority on 440 million acres of federal public lands under the newly proposed "Recreational Fishing and Hunting Heritage and Opportunities Act" (HR 2834) introduced today by Reps. Dan Benishek (R-MI) and Dan Boren (D-OK). Cosponsors of the bill include Reps. Don Young (R-AK) and Mike Kelly (R-PA). The bill is also supported by other key members of the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, members of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, and the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance.

This vast acreage is managed by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), is found from coast to coast, and is used – and relied on – by many public land hunters, trappers, shooters and anglers. This bill, championed by the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance (USSA) and other leading angling and hunting organizations, establishes in law that recreational fishing, hunting (which includes trapping) and shooting are important and traditional activities to be continued on these public lands and that fish and wildlife conservation is improved by protecting these activities. Joining USSA in this landmark effort are the American Sportfishing Association, National Rifle Association, Safari Club International, and the Congressional Sportsmen Foundation.

"The USSA has strongly encouraged such legislation for over a decade to spell out in law that fishing and hunting on federal public lands must be protected from the rising animal rights lobby," said Bill Horn, USSA director of federal affairs. "This bill will provide needed protection for years to come."

This landmark measure recognizes that recreational anglers, hunters and shooters have been, and continue to be, the foremost supporters of sound fish and wildlife management and conservation in the United States. The bill further highlights that hunting, fishing and recreational shooting occurs on Federal public lands and waters, without adverse impacts or effects on other uses or users. These features are similar to the designation of fishing and hunting as priority public uses on refuge lands in the 1997 National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act. USSA played a key role in enacting the 1997 Act and has been working since then to expand these concepts to USFS and BLM lands. The Refuge Act has curtailed attempts by anti-hunting groups to stop hunting on some public lands where hunting has traditionally occurred.

Animal rights activists, however, continue to press for fishing and hunting closures on public lands. These assaults against hunters take several routes. Some courts require the land's managing agencies to actively consider wholesale hunting and shooting closures to appease this fringe group. In other cases, fishing, and hunting get treated as “new” activities which cannot be authorized (and continued) until numerous lengthy and costly environmental reviews and land plans are completed. This new bill will block these threats.

"We have been very pleased to work with Reps. Benishek and Boren and the House Natural Resources Committee to develop this important legislation," Horn continued. "USSA stands ready to assure enactment of the bill into law to ensure that our hunting and fishing heritage on federal public lands is protected." Today's introduction of the bill begins this important process.

When enacted, the Recreational Fishing and Hunting Heritage and Opportunities Act would specify that federal public land management officials shall exercise their authority under existing law, including provisions regarding land-use planning, to facilitate use of and access to federal public lands and waters for fishing, hunting, and recreational shooting. Going forward, all management plans would include provisions for those popular practices.

The affected lands that will be open include: lands under the jurisdiction of the BLM and the USFS, including lands designated Wilderness or administratively classified as Wilderness eligible or suitable, and primitive or semi-primitive areas. National parks, however, are excluded from the Act as are Wildlife Refuges (already governed by the 1997 Act).

The Recreational Fishing and Hunting Heritage and Opportunities Act will also recognize the work of conservation organizations and their assistance to fish and wildlife managers, plus enforcement officers, at the federal, state and local government levels. Hunters and anglers volunteer countless hours to fish and wildlife conservation projects across America that have also benefitted all public lands and citizens in general. Additionally, associated outdoor industries have generated billions of dollars of critical funding for fish and wildlife conservation, research, and management through revenues from purchases of fish and hunting licenses and permits. Many other projects undertaken on BLM and USFS lands are funded by excise taxes on fishing, hunting, and shooting equipment. Those billions of dollars are critical funding for fish and wildlife conservation, research, and management and are unequalled by any group or program in our nation.

It's important to note that the new bill recognizes that recreational shooting is also an important and traditional activity in which millions of Americans participate, and establishes that safe recreational shooting is a valid use of federal public lands. Participation in recreational shooting helps recruit and retain hunters and contributes to wildlife conservation through taxes and assorted programs.

Opportunities to recreationally fish, hunt, trap, and shoot are declining, which depresses participation in these traditional activities. As a result, less participation adversely impacts fish and wildlife conservation and funding for important projects by reducing or limiting monies available. The term "recreational shooting" means any form of sport, training, competition or pastime, whether formal or informal, that involves the discharge of a rifle, handgun, or shotgun, or the use of a bow and arrow. The public interest would be better served, and our citizens' fish and wildlife resources benefitted, by action to ensure that opportunities are facilitated to engage in fishing and hunting on Federal public lands.

Another key provision finds that fishing and hunting are "necessary" to fulfill wilderness purposes on lands designated or managed as Wilderness. This ensures that recent anti-hunting, anti-wildlife management decisions by the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco cannot be used to bar fishing, hunting or wildlife conservation efforts in Wilderness areas.

"When passed, this legislation will have a profound beneficial impact on anglers, hunters and shooters far into the future," said Horn.

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