Backcountry Hunters & Anglers Federal Policy Roundup 2023

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is built on the idea that the stewardship of our public lands, waters and wildlife means not just conservation in the field, but advocacy within the halls of power as well. This is what our federal policy work has led to in the past year with the support of our members, who none of this would be possible without. Thank you.

 

ADMINISTRATIVE ACCOMPLISHMENTS:

In 2023 BHA advocated for the following actions taken by the Department of Interior (DOI) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to conserve more than 25 million acres of public lands and waters across the United States.

 

Boundary Waters

The USFS and DOI finalized a 20-year mineral withdrawal of 225,000 acres in the Superior National Forest in January, following an environmental assessment that demonstrated a threat from proposed copper mining to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. BHA, and our partners Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters, strongly supported this action to protect the Boundary Waters from the proposed Twin Metals mine. This ensures that future generations can enjoy America’s most visited wilderness area and its unparalleled opportunities for canoe-based hunting and fishing. More than 6,500 BHA members and supporters wrote letters advocating to DOI and the USFS for these protections.

Bristol Bay

A Final Determination was announced in January by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to rescind a fill and dredge permit under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act –preventing development of the Pebble Mine. Their determination found that the more than 10 billion tons of mine waste posed “unacceptable adverse effects” for Bristol Bay in Alaska, which supports the largest run of sockeye salmon in the world, alongside every other Pacific salmon species and 30 other fish species. For decades hunters, anglers, tribes and commercial fishing companies have sought to conserve this irreplaceable fishery from the threat of industrial development. More than 4,000 BHA members and supporters signed our comments urging the EPA to finalize permanent protections.

Alaska Roadless Rule

In January, the USFS restored Roadless Rule protections for 9.3 million acres in the Tongass National Forest of southeast Alaska, the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest. Along with thousands of miles waterways providing one of the world’s most important salmon spawning areas, the Tongass also provides habitat and hunting opportunities for mountain goats, Sitka black-tailed deer and both brown and black bears. BHA has long been a supporter of the Roadless Rule which protects 58.5 million acres of the most wild backcountry lands across the National Forest System. In 2020 the Alaska Roadless Rule removed those protections entirely from the Tongass, despite 96% of public comments being in opposition. More than 1,000 BHA members and supporters signed our comments urging the USFS to reinstate previous protections that ensured the backcountry character and fish and wildlife habitat in our nation’s largest national forest remains intact.

America's Arctic

Significant actions supported by BHA were announced by DOI in September to conserve fish and wildlife habitat in America’s Arctic. This included the initiation of a rulemaking process to strengthen conservation for 13 million acres of designated Special Areas in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), as well as issuing a new environmental impact statement for the oil and gas leasing program in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and cancelling the remaining leases due to legal concerns. Nearly 1,000 BHA members and supporters signed our comments urging DOI to advance these decisions.

America's Arctic, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and important designated Special Areas such as Teshekpuk Lake in the NPR-A, are some of the last great wild expanses in North America. Providing calving grounds for caribou along with habitat for all three species of North American bears, and wolves. Braided rivers as well as Arctic lakes and wetlands are rich with salmon, Artic grayling, Dolly Varden, and Arctic char. These rich wetland complexes also provide summer nesting sites for tens of thousands of migratory waterfowl and shorebirds.

The Arctic Refuge is the only national wildlife refuge that requires oil and gas leasing by law, and has since 2017. BHA has long worked to ensure the 1.5-million-acre coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge is protected as designated wilderness. The NPR-A, located on Alaska’s North Slope, is the largest contiguous unit of public land in the United States with a total of more than 23 million acres that includes both oil and gas leasing, but is also to be managed for the "maximum protection" of areas that have "significant subsistence, recreational, fish and wildlife, or historical or scenic value."

New National Monuments

BHA and our members supported national monument designations, made this year through President Biden's use of the Antiquities Act, for their benefits to public land with important fish and wildlife habitat. Both Avi Kwa Ame National Monument announced in March and Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument announced in August.

Located in southern Nevada, the Avi Kwa Ame National Monument encompasses 506,814 acres of federal public lands. This secured protections for important wildlife habitat and migration corridors utilized by species such as desert bighorn sheep and mule deer. Found in northern Arizona, the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument includes 917,618 acres of federal public. This designation conserved important habitat for bighorn sheep, pronghorn, elk, mule deer and bison.

Importantly, these landscapes will continue to be managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and USFS, while the respective states will retain wildlife management authority including active management for water resources to sustain wildlife populations. Hunting and existing public access opportunities will be maintained, and the designations require representatives from the hunting community to be on the respective monument advisory committee that guides management of these landscapes.

The designation of these monuments follows tenets supported by BHA that the process be locally driven, transparent, incorporates the science-based management of habitat and upholds existing hunting and fishing opportunities. In partnership with other sporting groups and outdoor businesses, in 2023 BHA released a new report highlighting opportunities for conservation through national monuments and the necessity that they adhere to these tenets.

BLM Public Lands Rule

DOI announced in March the initiation of a proposed Public Lands Conservation and Landscape Health Rule. BHA has applauded this rulemaking that would, for the first time ever, value conservation as a valid use of lands managed by the BLM on par with other uses like energy development, mining, timber harvest and grazing. More than 3,000 BHA members and supporters shared comments on this proposed rule with the BLM. Given that the BLM is the steward of our largest public lands estate, managing more than 245 million acres, the result of this rulemaking process would greatly benefit hunters and anglers who rely on healthy, intact landscapes to pursue fish and game. Valuing the conservation of intact habitat - including migration corridors - on par with other uses provides an unparalleled opportunity for the BLM to balance management at a time when intense drought, severe wildfires and encroaching invasive species threaten our public lands.

 

LEGISLATIVE ACCOMPLISHMENTS:

The Protecting Hunting Heritage and Education Act (H.R. 5110) was passed into law to clarify the intent of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA), a law which upon implementation prohibited funds for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act from being used for “training in the use of a dangerous weapon.” BHA shared our concern and frustration with the Department of Education regarding their interpretation of the BSCA that resulted in some schools withholding funding for hunter education, shooting sports, and other programs. BHA took a leading role in working with legislators in both chambers of Congress and partners across the hunting and shooting sports communities, with support from the Department of Education, to ensure a swift and decisive legislative solution to clarify the law and return funding to these programs and educational opportunities that benefit millions of American youths – the next generation of safe and responsible sportsmen and women. The Protecting Hunting Heritage and Education Act received a vote of 424-1 in the House and passed under unanimous consent in the Senate. This corrective legislation advanced incredibly swiftly with near universal support before being signed into law by President Biden.

 

In 2023 BHA supported the advancement and introduction of legislative priorities that would permanently conserve more than 4.5 million acres of public lands and nearly 2,000 miles of waterways. We helped organize relevant committee hearings and votes and advocated for the advancement of more than three dozen pieces of legislation, including the following:

 

  • America’s Outdoor Recreation Act (S. 873) which was reported after a voice vote by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
  • Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument Expansion Act (H.R. 1396/S. 683) which was reported after a voice vote by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and introduced in the House of Representatives.
  • Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act (S. 2149) which was reported after a voice vote by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee
  • Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act (H.R.668) which was introduced in the House of Representatives.
  • Cerro de la Olla Wilderness Establishment Act (H.R. 1303/S. 593) which was reported after a voice vote by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and introduced in the House of Representatives.
  • Chuckwalla National Monument Establishment and Joshua Tree National Park Expansion Act (H.R. 5660) which was introduced in the House of Representatives.
  • Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act (H.R. 3495/S. 1742) which received a hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and was introduced in the House of Representatives.
  • Colorado Outdoor Recreation Act (H.R. 3437/S. 1634) which was reported after a bipartisan vote by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and was introduced in the House of Representatives.
  • Connecticut River Watershed Partnership Act (H.R. 5216/S. 2660) which was introduced in the Senate and House of Representatives.
  • Deerfield River Wild and Scenic River Study Act (H.R. 1312/S. 608) which was reported after a voice vote by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and introduced in the House of Representatives.
  • Dolores River National Conservation Area and Special Management Area Act (H.R. 1534/S. 636) which was reported after a voice vote by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and was introduced in the House of Representatives.
  • End Speculative Oil and Gas Leasing Act (H.R. 3377/S. 1622) which received a hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and was introduced in the House of Representatives.
  • EXPLORE Act (H.R. 6492) which was introduced in the House of Representatives.
  • Flatside Wilderness Additions Act (H.R. 3971) which was introduced in the House of Representatives.
  • Good Samaritan Remediation of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act (H.R. 2781) which was introduced in the Senate.
  • M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act (H.R. 1611/S. 776) which was reported after a bipartisan vote by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and introduced in the House of Representatives.
  • Malheur Community Empowerment for the Owyhee (CEO) Act (S. 1890) which was reported after a voice vote by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
  • Migratory Birds of the Americas Conservation Enhancements Act (H.R. 4839) which received a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee.
  • Modernizing Access to Public (MAP)Waters Act (H.R. 6127/S. 3123) which received a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee.
  • Montana Headwaters Legacy Act (S. 3346) which was introduced in the Senate.
  • New York New Jersey Watershed Protection Act (H.R. 2982/S. 1335) which was introduced in the Senate and received a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee.
  • Nulhegan River and Paul Stream Wild and Scenic River Study Act (H.R. 1063/S. 432) which was reported after a voice vote by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and introduced in the House of Representatives.
  • Oregon Recreation Enhancement Act (S. 440) which was reported after a bipartisan vote by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
  • Pecos Watershed Protection Act (H.R. 5943/S. 3033) which was reported after a vote by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and was introduced in the House of Representatives.
  • PUBLIC Lands Act (S. 1776) which was reported after a vote by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and was introduced in the House of Representatives in three standalone bills.
  • Recovering America's Wildlife Act (S. 1149) which was introduced in the Senate.
  • Roadless Area Conservation Act (H.R. 3853/S. 1831) which was introduced in the Senate and House of Representatives.
  • Ruby Mountains Protection Act (S. 706) which was reported after a bipartisan vote by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
  • Shenandoah Mountain Act (S. 2630) which was introduced in the Senate.
  • Smith River National Recreation Area Expansion Act (H.R. 6595/S. 2630) which was reported after a bipartisan vote by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and introduced in the House of Representatives.
  • Tax Stamp Revenue Transfer for Wildlife and Recreation Act (H.R. 6352) which was introduced in the House of Representatives.
  • Virginia Wilderness Additions Act (S. 745) which was introduced in the Senate.
  • Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act (H.R. 5186/S. 1161) which was introduced in the Senate and House of Representatives.
  • WILD Act (H.R. 5009) which was reported after a voice vote by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and by the House Natural Resources Committee.
  • Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (H.R. 2765/S. 1254) which was reported after a vote by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and was introduced in the House of Representatives.
About Kaden McArthur

A western hunter and angler at heart, my passion for wild places and wildlife brought me to Washington, DC to work on conservation policy.

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