During the month of May both chambers of Congress held important committee meetings to discuss a variety of legislation that impacts hunters and anglers through public land conservation and outdoor recreation management. The Environmental Protection Agency also announced its proposal to finalize permanent protections for Bristol Bay. With summer approaching, the time before November elections and the lame duck period continues to shrink.
Senate Committee Passes Public Lands and Recreation Legislation
On May 3, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a long-awaited markup and passed a slate of public lands bills supported by BHA as well as an outdoor recreation package coalesced around Chairman Manchin's and Ranking Member Barrasso’s Outdoor Recreation Act (S. 3266).
Several pieces of legislation passed by the committee would improve protections for fish and wildlife habitat on our public lands and waters, including the following bills BHA is advocating that the full Senate now take up for a vote:
- Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act (S. 173), led by Sen. Bennet (D-CO), which would enhance conservation for 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado, including areas that provide some of the best big game hunting opportunities in the state. It would increase wilderness areas, strengthen conservation protections and ensure the wild character of the San Juan mountains, Thompson Divide and the White River National Forest - places on which wildlife and hunters and anglers depend.
- Cerro de la Olla Wilderness Establishment Act (S. 177), led by Sen. Heinrich (D-NM), which would establish 13,000 acres in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument as wilderness while maintaining current access routes.
- Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (S. 455), led by Sen. Murray (D-WA), which would create 126,000 acres of new wilderness in Washington’s Olympic National Forest and 19 new Wild and Scenic Rivers that span 464 miles.
- Smith River National Recreation Area Expansion Act (S. 1538), led by Sen. Merkley, which would expand the existing national recreation area by 58,000 acres and designate segments of the North Fork of the Smith River as components of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
The bipartisan Outdoor Recreation Act would have many benefits for hunters and anglers by modernizing the management our lands and waters and establishing greater public access. The following legislation supported by BHA was included in the Outdoor Recreation Act package as an amendment: the Recreation Not-Red-Tape Act (S. 1874), the Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act (S. 1229), the Cape and Antler Preservation Enhancement Act (S. 2886), and the Federal Interior Lands Media Act (S. 1616). BHA continues to push to see this package passed by the full Senate and brought up in the House Natural Resources Committee so it can be signed into law before the end of this Congress.
House Committee Takes up Public Lands Legislation
On May 11, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands held a hearing that included two pieces of legislation in which BHA has engaged.
The Roadless Area Conservation Act (H.R. 279), led by Rep. Gallego (D-AZ), would codify the 2001 Roadless Rule and permanently conserve 58.5 million acres of intact national forest lands, including more than 9 million acres in the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska. The most commented on rulemaking process in U.S history at the time, the Roadless Rule has conserved these lands in 39 different states for more than two decades while balancing needs and other land-uses.
Unfortunately, misguided administrative actions in recent years completely unraveled safeguards for the most pristine fish and wildlife habitat in the Tongass, demonstrating the need for permanent conservation measures to ensure the health of fish and wildlife habitat and the future of our hunting and fishing traditions.
Also before the committee was the House version of the Smith River National Recreation Area Expansion Act (H.R. 7329), led by Rep. Huffman. This legislation would protect critically important rivers, streams and lands adjacent to the North Fork Smith River watershed – in turn benefiting fish and wildlife habitat as well as the local recreation economy.
Hearing on 1872 Mining Law Reform
On May 12, the Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act (H.R. 7580), led by House Natural Resources Committee Chair Grijalva (D-AZ), was given a hearing by the committee. BHA applauded the introduction of H.R. 7580 last month. This legislation would modernize the antiquated 1872 Mining Law, which has governed hardrock mining on U.S. 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 the nation’s federal public lands. The legislation also would 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.
Additionally, 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.
Read more here in this recent article by Outdoor Life.
Boundary Waters Legislative Hearing
On May 24, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a hearing on the Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act (H.R. 2794), led by Rep. McCollum (D-MN). BHA shared our strong support with the committee for this legislation that would withdraw 234,328 acres of the Superior National Forest in the Rainey River watershed surrounding the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from mineral leasing. Sportsmen and women support these protections, which would maintain the pristine ecological quality and unparalleled hunting, fishing and recreation opportunities of the Boundary Waters, the most visited wilderness area in the United States.
BHA Minnesota Chapter Chairman Matt Lee reiterated the chapter's support of the bill.
"The Minnesota Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers supports HR 2794, the Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act, without hesitation," said Lee. "This commonsense bill will protect the Rainy River watershed from the hazards of copper-nickel sulfide ore and its acidic mine waste while continuing the strong tradition of safely mining taconite ore in Minnesota’s Iron Range and the Superior National Forest.
"Right now, historic flooding in the Rainy River watershed is proof that Minnesota businesses dodged both an ecological and economic disaster from mine waste contamination this year," Lee continued. "We must protect this extremely valuable natural resource, the jobs that it provides, and the fresh water it holds from the Northwest Angle to the Gunflint Trail. These waters will be essential to Minnesota’s and our nation’s futures.”
BHA hopes to see a markup held with a committee vote on H.R. 2794 this summer. We will work with our congressional champs to continue garnering broad support for this legislation. Twin Metal’s proposed sulfide-ore copper mine would have disastrous impacts on this irreplaceable backcountry treasure.
Permanent Protections for Bristol Bay
On May 25, the Environmental Protection Agency announced its Proposed Determination for the Pebble Mine along with a 40-day comment period on its proposal to finalize permanent protections for Bristol Bay under section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act.
The EPA found that mine waste, including dredged or fill material, would have "unacceptable adverse effects" for Bristol Bay's salmon fishery, including the permanent loss of 8.5 miles of streams. This 404(c) authority effectively stops Pebble Mine from being developed and prohibits more than 10.2 billion tons of waste from being permanently disposed of in the Bristol Bay watershed – the most productive sockeye salmon fishery on earth. These are the durable protections hunters, anglers, tribes and commercial fishing companies have been demanding for over a decade.
The Bristol Bay region of Alaska and its pristine landscape contain incredible hunting and angling in some of America’s most valuable watersheds. The world’s largest runs of sockeye salmon return to the rivers and streams of the region every year, supporting the culture, economy, and ecosystem of southwestern Alaska. BHA will continue to advocate for permanent protections that would avoid a disaster such as the Pebble Mine from threatening this region.