Hunter and angler priorities have been put on the back burner during these unpredictable times, and rightfully so given the impact of COVID-19. However, lawmakers, Capitol Hill staff and agency officials continue to work on policies that impact hunters and anglers.
Sens. Martha McSally (R-AZ) and Angus King (I-ME) and Reps. Russ Fulcher (R-ID) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA) introduced the Modernizing Access to our Public Land (MAPLand) Act. This legislation will help enhance access to our outdoor opportunities by requiring federal land management agencies to digitize their mapping records so that information like access points, easements, roads, permissible uses, etc. are easily accessible to the public in a format that can be utilized by popular GPS and mapping technologies.
While much of this information already exists and is publicly available, it is often only recorded in regional and local offices, mostly in dated paper files. Some efforts have been made to update and digitize records, but agencies often cite that they do not have the money or resources to do so. This bill would authorize $33.5 million in funding over three years to implement the database. Read more on the policy here.
Interior Proposal to Expand Hunting and Fishing Opportunities
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt released a proposed rule to expand hunting and fishing opportunities across more than 2.3 million acres at 97 national wildlife refuges and nine national fish hatcheries. This proposal would enhance our outdoor traditions and boost the nation’s $887-billion outdoor recreation economy by providing for the largest expansion of public hunting and fishing access on national wildlife refuge lands in U.S. history.
Join BHA in supporting the proposed rule to expand hunting and fishing opportunities by sending a letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
In addition, we wanted to make you aware that BHA chapters with affected properties in their territory can further engage on this issue by highlighting the specific proposed changes at those properties to the chapter membership. Click here for a list of the affected properties and proposed changes.
Increased E-Bike Use on BLM Lands?
The Bureau of Land Management released a proposed rule that would direct “authorized officials” to facilitate the use of all classes of e-bikes on trails where motorized use is currently prohibited. This would be accomplished by excluding motorized e-bikes from the existing “motorized vehicle” definition used by land managers for travel management purposes. As referenced in the proposed rule, the change is expected to significantly increase motorized use on our public lands, a move that would have widespread impacts on traditional uses and wildlife habitat.
Join BHA in opposing the BLM’s proposal to allow e-bikes on trails reserved for non-motorized use.
Admin Action Weakens Clean Water Act Protections
The administration released the finalized replacement rule to the 2015 Clean Water Rule (commonly referred to as the waters of the U.S. State or WOTUS). This revised and final rule eliminates Clean Water Act protections for ephemeral streams and threatens the future of intermittent streams with seasonal flow fluctuations. Now, approximately 50 percent of wetlands and 60 percent of stream miles in the United States are vulnerable to pollution, harming our clean drinking water and America’s hunting and fishing heritage.
The 2015 WOTUS definition restored lost protections for these waters and maintains the integrity of the Clean Water Act, a law that for more than 45 years has protected waters on which hunters and anglers depend.
Hunters and anglers know better than anyone that our streams and wetlands are inextricably linked to the health of fish, wildlife and their habitats in addition to ensuring that our outdoor traditions endure into the future. Under this revised rule, however, our legacy of stewardship is undermined, and our sporting heritage is unnecessarily threatened.
Sage Grouse Management Draws Continued Debate
The Bureau of Land Management extended the public comment period on six draft supplemental environmental impact statement (EIS) for sage grouse management plans that were issued in 2019. The new deadline is May 21.
BHA, other hunting and angling organizations and local stakeholders across the West came together in 2015 with an unprecedented collaboration to tailor home-grown solutions that advanced conservation in sagebrush country and averted the need to list the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act. A listing decision is bad business for all Westerners, but especially ranchers, the energy industry and sportsmen and women. Yet this success story continues to be the target of repeated attacks from the current administration. Unraveling these conservation plans not only threatens sage grouse habitat; it also creates greater uncertainty for big game populations like elk, pronghorn and mule deer. Instead of catering to outsiders and special interests, the administration should keep its promise to the West and allow science to guide land management decisions.
Implementing the 2015 plans as originally envisioned respects the time and investment made by so many - and gives us the best chance of keeping the bird off the endangered list while maintaining the flexibility to compensate for new science and information that will continue to inform management models going forward. Let’s keep decisions about the future of wildlife and habitat in the hands of biologists and away from politicians and outsiders motivated by special interests.
Proposed NEPA Changes Cause for Sportsmen's Concern
The Council on Environmental Quality has proposed changes to the regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. The changes would give the administration a great deal of latitude in determining which impacts they will study and analyze for a proposed project in addition to creating ambiguity for environmental reviews. BHA has additional concerns around the following elements of the proposed NEPA rule:
- The rule would create restrictive timelines for environmental impact statements and environmental assessments (two years for EIS and one year for an EA).
- It would establish that all reasonable alternatives must be technically and economically feasible, potentially limiting or eliminating the best natural resource management planning policies based on subjective criteria that vacillate with changing circumstances like appropriations processes.
- It would create new direction and ambiguity around the threshold consideration, which triggers NEPA and dictates when it applies. It would also modify definitions, including major federal actions, to potentially eliminate environmental reviews for projects determined to have minimal federal funding or involvement.
- It would establish new requirements that could curtail public commenting opportunity by mandating that public comments be specific and timely submitted.
The administration is expected to fast-track the new NEPA rule in order to finalize it by May and avoid the potential use of a draconian measure called the Congressional Review Act, or CRA, should Democrats hold control of the White House and Congress following the 2020 elections. The CRA was successfully resurrected by Republicans in President Trump’s first month in office (January 2017) to repeal BLM’s new planning rule (Planning 2.0) and the Obama-era Stream Protection Rule. The administration is acutely aware of their deadline for finalizing rules in advance of the 60-legislative days for a congressional repeal of administrative rules afforded by the CRA.