In July, both House and Senate committees took action to advance important legislation supported by BHA that would improve forest management and protect public lands and waters ranging from the Smith River in Oregon and California to the Boundary Waters in Minnesota. New legislation supported by BHA was introduced this month that would conserve North America’s grasslands and sagebrush ecosystems. BHA members also raised our voices against legislation that would gut the Pittman-Robertson Act and weaken the role of hunters in wildlife conservation.
Legislation Targeting Pittman-Robertson Funds
In the final days of June, Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA) introduced the RETURN our Constitutional Rights Act (H.R. 8167), which was repudiated with an roar of grassroots opposition from sportsmen and women. To date, five cosponsors of the legislation have already rescinded their support of the bill.
BHA strongly opposes this legislation, which would strip the funding of the Pittman-Robertson Act by ending the excise taxes on firearms and ammunition. The Pittman-Robertson Act is the most significant wildlife conservation funding tool in the United States, raising $1.1 billion in 2021 alone. The RETURN Act would not only siphon funding from the management of fish and wildlife across the nation; it also would diminish the stake that sportsmen and women have in funding wildlife conservation and erode our role in sustaining the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. Sportsmen and women are proud of our contributions to and unique role in wildlife conservation.
Though the bill was "dead on arrival," BHA has joined media coverage highlighting the threat this bill poses to the public. BHA also joined a letter with more than 40 organizations reiterating support for the Pittman-Robertson Act and its funding mechanisms.
House Committee Advances Legislation to Permanently Protect the Boundary Waters
On July 13, the House Natural Resources Committee held a markup on Rep. Betty McCollum’s (D-MN) Boundary Waters Protection and Pollution Prevention Act (H.R. 2794). This legislation, which would permanently protect the Boundary Waters from the threat of sulfide-ore mining, was favorably reported by the committee after a vote of 24-16. Providing access for more than 150,000 adventurers every year, the Boundary Waters is the most visited wilderness area in the United States.
The Forest Service comment period on the proposed 20-year withdrawal of mineral leasing in the 225,000-acre region of the Superior National Forest remains open until Aug. 12. The environmental assessment for this proposal showed that copper-nickel mining in the Rainy River watershed poses a major risk to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. BHA supports this proposed withdrawal, an effort that has spanned multiple administrations. Yet only action by Congress can permanently protect the region from mining that would leach mineral tailings and acid mine drainage into the Boundary Waters.
Lost Trail Conservation Area Added to National Wildlife Refuge System
On July 13, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the establishment of the 38,000-plus acre Lost Trail Conservation Area in northwest Montana. This addition to the National Wildlife Refuge System will allow for multiple uses of the landscape, including opportunities for hunters and anglers. The Montana chapter of BHA has been one of many stakeholders involved in a multi-year collaborative process. This project was funded through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which BHA successfully advocated for permanent reauthorization of through the Dingell Act and full funding for through the Great American Outdoors Act.
Senate Committee Votes on Nomination and Public Lands Bills
On July 21, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a long-awaited markup that included eight important pieces of legislation supported by BHA that would conserve public lands and benefit the management of fish and wildlife habitat. Additionally, a vote was held by the committee on the nomination of Laura Daniel-Davis to be an assistant interior secretary.
This was the second time the committee has held a vote on Daniel-Davis, a highly unusual situation that once again resulted in a 10-10 vote. However, Senate leadership can take her nomination at any time and discharge it to the full Senate. BHA’s statement on her nomination can be found here. BHA supports her nomination and urges the Senate to swiftly confirm her.
The following bills supported by BHA received a vote by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, determining whether they advance to the full Senate. Favorably reported legislation will be sent to the full Senate for further consideration. Those bills that had a tied vote will be held by the committee; leaving their future path this Congress uncertain.
- Grand Canyon Protection Act S. 387 - Sen. Sinema (D-AZ): This legislation would permanently withdraw 1 million acres around the Grand Canyon from mining and mineral leasing, protecting the water resources of the Colorado River and numerous fish and wildlife species while still allowing for the multiple-use of these public lands. Unfortunately, during the committee meeting the bill received a gridlocked vote of 10-10.
- Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act S. 1493 - Sen. Tester (D-MT): This legislation would designate nearly 80,000 acres as wilderness, and the carefully selected designations would provide crucial habitat security for a variety of wildlife while also protecting important watersheds for native fish such as cutthroat and bull trout. In addition, new snowmobiling opportunities would be provided in the proposed Otatsy Recreation Management Area while the Spread Mountain Recreation Management Area would be created to preserve mountain biking opportunities. During the committee meeting the bill received a gridlocked vote of 10-10. Sen. Daines (R-MT) is unwilling to move the bill forward without the additional, unrelated release of wilderness study areas in Montana.
- Smith River National Recreation Area Expansion Act S. 1538 - Sen. Merkley (D-OR): This legislation would expand the existing Smith River National Recreation Area in California by 58,000 acres into Oregon, protecting critically important rivers, streams and lands adjacent to the North Fork Smith River watershed and in turn benefiting fish and wildlife habitat as well as the local recreation economy. The bill would also designate 74 miles of waterways as components of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The committee advanced this legislation with a favorable report through vote of 11-9.
- “Cottonwood” Legislative Fix S. 2561 - Sen. Daines (R-MT): This legislation would overturn the Cottonwood Environmental Law Center v. United States Forest Service (Cottonwood) decision delivered in 2015, which has resulted in costly duplicative consultation at the programmatic level for land management and forest management plans. After a 16-4 vote to amend the bill, the committee held a voice vote to favorably report this legislation.
- Root and Stem Project Authorization Act S. 3046 - Sen. Daines (R-MT): This legislation would allow landscape-scale forest restoration projects to be conducted through more efficient and effective forest management by codifying the authority used by the Forest Service in the Coleville National Forest for the “A to Z” project. The committee held a voice vote to favorably report this legislation.
- M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act S. 3129 - Sen. Heinrich (D-NM): This legislation would protect a total of 446 miles of rivers and streams in the Gila River System, home of the revered Gila trout, through the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Multiple-use of these public lands would continue while ensuring protections for irreplaceable fish and wildlife habitat. The committee advanced this legislation with a favorable report through vote of 11-9.
- Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument Expansion Act S. 4080 - Sen. Padilla (D-CA): This legislation would expand the national monument through the transfer of 3,925 acres of adjacent Bureau of Land Management-administered public lands. This would provide an excellent precedent for how to effectively conserve public land without altering recreational opportunities for hunting and angling, which are a critical component of conservation funding and policy. The committee held a unanimous voice vote to favorably report this legislation.
- Upper Colorado and San Juan River Basins Recovery Act H.R. 5001 - Rep. Neguse (D-CO): This legislation would achieve greater certainty for water users in the Upper Colorado River Basin in addition to strengthening commitments to the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program and ensuring continuity for the recovery of critical fisheries and habitat conservation efforts. The committee held a unanimous voice vote to favorably report this legislation. H.R 5001 passed the House of Representatives overwhelmingly in March, by a margin of 397-27. The Senate must now see this legislation across the finish line.
BHA was excited to see the committee advance S. 1538, S. 2561, S. 3046, S. 3129, S. 4080 and H.R. 5001; however, incredibly disappointed that both S. 387 and S. 1493 were blocked from being reported to the full Senate.
North American Grasslands Conservation Act Introduced
On July 27, brand new legislation was introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the North American Grasslands Conservation Act. The bill would authorize the investment of $290 million annually in grants to incentivize the voluntary conservation of grasslands, similar to the successful North American Wetlands Conservation Act, or NAWCA, which has protected more than 30 million acres of wetlands since its inception. BHA is working to support this policy in partnership with a coalition of organizations.
This legislation would also create a North American Grassland Conservation Strategy, drawing from and coordinating resources such as existing regional conservation plans and frameworks, Tribal Conservation Plans, NRCS Working Lands for Wildlife Frameworks, and State Wildlife Action Plans. Conserving and restoring our grassland ecosystems is critical, with 50 million acres having been lost in the last decade alone. Along with habitat loss has come the loss of grassland species including popular game birds like bobwhite quail whose population has declined 85% in the last 50 years.