April saw action by the Senate to unanimously pass the MAPLand Act as well as to move the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act out of committee. Additionally, legislation was introduced by the Senate to fund chronic wasting disease research and management, and legislation was introduced by both chambers of Congress to modernize the 1872 Mining Law, which governs more than two-thirds of our nation’s public lands.
Modernizing Access to Our Public Land Act
The Modernizing Access to Our Public Land (MAPLand) Act (S. 904), led by Senators Jim Risch (R-ID) and Angus King (I-ME), was passed by the Senate on April 7. Given its unanimous support, the legislation passed under a procedural vote that allowed the legislation to move forward without objection.
The MAPLand Act will fund public land management agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Reclamation and Army Corps of Engineers, to standardize, compile and release digital map records to the public. The publicly available information would include the open or closed status of roads and trails on public lands, vehicle-use regulations and boundary details.
Passage by the Senate followed the House vote on the MAPLand Act on March 15, which passed with a margin of 414-9. On April 29, the bill was signed into law by President Biden.
Recovering America’s Wildlife Act
On April 7, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted to report the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (S. 2372) to the full Senate with a strong bipartisan vote of 15-5 in a committee with evenly divided partisanship. This legislation, led by Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI), continues to move forward with significant momentum in both the Senate and the House following its bipartisan committee vote in the House Natural Resources Committee in January of this year.
The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would create nearly $1.4 billion in annual dedicated funding for state and tribal wildlife management agencies. In doing so, it would provide critical support for conservation work, enhancing fish and wildlife habitat and boosting America’s outdoor recreation economy. The management of at-risk species under science-based wildlife action plans is beneficial for all fish and wildlife, including game species. Now both chambers of Congress must take up this legislation on the floor and pass it with haste.
Legislation to Reform the 1872 Mining Law
The bicameral Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act was introduced by both House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) on April 26. This legislation would modernize the antiquated 1872 Mining Law, which has governed hardrock mining on our public lands for 150 years. In doing so, this legislation would fund the restoration of abandoned mines through the institution of royalties and other fees on hardrock mining operations, requiring the industry to pay for its use of public resources.
More than 270 million acres of federal public lands are open to hardrock mining under the 1872 Mining Law, more than two-thirds of U.S. federal public lands. The legislation would also strengthen the authority to withdraw special places, like our most critical fish and wildlife habitat, from mining. Hunters and anglers have long advocated for legislation to modernize the 1872 Mining Law. Hardrock mining should be similar to oil and gas and coal, which pay their fair shares.
The legislation would create the Hardrock Minerals Reclamation Fund, providing revenue to clean up abandoned mines using monies derived from royalties and fees. Notably, the fund would be used to implement the hardrock mining cleanup program established by the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. With an estimated half-million abandoned mines in the United States, robust funding for this program is critical.
Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act
Led by Sens. John Hoeven (R-ND) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM), on April 28 the Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act was introduced. This critical legislation was passed overwhelmingly by the House last December in a vote of 393-33. Now with a Senate bill introduced the Agriculture Committee must take action before a vote from the full Senate.
The Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act would fund coordinated management between the Agriculture Department and state wildlife agencies and departments of agriculture, authorizing $70 million over the next seven years. The bill also would fund CWD research and the development of educational programs to inform the public.
Each year millions of Americans hunt deer and other related big game species, and each season more hunters in the field face the threat of CWD and the serious implications it presents for feeding our families and pursuing our outdoor traditions. We hope Congress will act quickly to move this important legislation, which will benefit wild deer and ensure future opportunities for sportsmen and women are not threatened by CWD.
On April 8, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) announced the introduction of the Helping Open Underutilized Space to Ensure Shelter (HOUSES) Act (S. 4062), which proposes to sell off federal public lands for development. This is eerily similar to historic proposals by Sen. Lee to transfer and sell off our public lands. Importantly, the HOUSES Act fails to provide a meaningful solution to affordable housing.
The Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act already allows for the exchange of specific, low value, isolated parcels of public land where it is necessary. New legislation broadening and streamlining the transfer of public lands is wholly inappropriate and opens up the doors to future abuses. To add insult to injury, the bill proposes that parcels of public lands up for grabs would be sold at a discounted rate.
BHA strongly opposes this legislation, which appears to be nothing more than an attack on our public lands, and is closely tracking it to make sure it does not advance further. Hunters, anglers and recreators in the U.S. have the unparalleled opportunity to enjoy 640 million acres of public lands and waters, spanning a diverse range of fish and wildlife habitat. Many sportsmen and women have nonexistent or limited access to private lands. We rely on America’s public lands system to pursue our traditions.
America the Beautiful Challenge
The “America the Beautiful Challenge,” a $1 billion grant program that will leverage federal conservation and restoration investments with private and funding, was announced on April 4 by the Biden administration to accelerate land, water and wildlife conservation efforts across the U.S. The America the Beautiful Challenge will kick off with an initial commitment of $440 million of federal resources over the next five years, administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). This funding will support locally led ecosystem restoration projects that invest in watershed restoration, resilience, equitable access, corridors and connectivity, and collaborative conservation, consistent with the America the Beautiful Initiative. The America the Beautiful Challenge will offer states, Tribes, territories, local groups, non-governmental organizations and others the opportunity to apply for multiple grant programs through a single application that is managed by NFWF.