During the month of April important pieces of legislation were introduced that would conserve public lands and waters from Washington and California to New York and New Jersey. Members of Congress also proposed the use of the Antiquities Act to designate a new national monument in Arizona that would maintain multiple-use while protecting more than 1 million acres of public lands from development. While the Land and Water Conservation Fund was used to acquire public hunting access in West Virginia, four bills introduced in the House would defund LWCF and claw back the hard-won victory of the Great American Outdoors Act.
Increased Public Access in West Virginia
On April 3, the National Park Service announced the acquisition of 963 acres to the preserve portion of New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. The West Virginia Chapter of BHA applauded this acquisition that, along with the 45 acres added earlier this year, will help to offset access lost to hunters on a total of 4,385 acres of public lands in the lower gorge area of the New River Gorge. You can read more on this month’s announcement on our blog.
The West Virginia Chapter of BHA worked with Congress to avoid the loss of public land access for hunters as the New River Gorge National Park & Preserve Designation Act was developed. However, its midnight inclusion in a omnibus bill in January 2021 ignored input from sportsmen and women. Recent acquisitions of public land have helped to offset, but can never fully replace, the loss of public land hunting access in the region. BHA continues to advocate for the swiftest possible acquisition of the full 3,711 acres authorized by Congress.
Attacks on the Land and Water Conservation Fund
Four bills introduced in the House take aim at the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA), which hunters and anglers, including BHA members and supporters, played a key role in passing into law in 2020. This ensured full and permanent funding for LWCF at $900 million annually, guaranteeing the future for America’s most popular and successful conservation and access program.
Together the four bills would hamstring the ability of public land management agencies to strategically acquire areas of important fish and wildlife habitat and places key to public access.
- H.R. 2207 would defund the U.S. Forest Service’s ability to acquire public land
- H.R. 2158 would defund the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s ability to acquire public land
- H.R. 2169 would defund the National Park Service’s ability to acquire public land
- H.R. 2153 would severely limit the Bureau of Land Management from acquiring public land
When Congress passed GAOA just three years ago, the legislation had strong, bipartisan support led by both Republicans and Democrats, receiving support from three quarters of members of Congress and signed into law by President Trump as one of his administration's priorities. If allowed to advance, these bills will compromise LWCF by eroding nearly 60 years of bipartisan conservation investments that hunters and anglers have been relying on for public access and enhancing important fish and wildlife habitat.
Legislation to Conserve California Public Lands and Waters
On April 10, Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA) reintroduced the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act (H.R. 2545). The bill would create nearly 250,000 acres of wilderness in the Los Padres National Forest and the Carrizo Plain National Monument as well as designate 159 miles of waterways as a part of the Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Doing so would levy permanent protections for important tule elk habitat as well as state designated trout waters.
This legislation has passed the House with bipartisan support multiple times as part of the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act, a package of legislation supported by BHA in the 117th Congress. It was also given a hearing last Congress by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee as a part of the PUBLIC Lands Act led by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA).
You can read more in this blog post on our website.
Proposed National Monument in Arizona
On April 11, the Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition along with Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) announced their proposal for the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni Grand Canyon National Monument, along with an ask to the Biden administration to use their authority under the Antiquities Act to protect the region.
“Hunters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts come from a broad range of backgrounds across the political spectrum,” said Justin Nelson, president of the Arizona Chapter of BHA. “The thing that ties us all together is the conservation of wildlife and wild places. Given the prodigious elk and mule deer hunting across the proposed Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni Grand Canyon National Monument, codifying the existing mineral withdrawal under this designation is not only good for hunters; it ensures certainty for the future of this region.”
BHA advocated for the existing administrative 20-year mineral withdrawal (which began in 2012) sharing the same footprint of the proposed monument in northern Arizona. In recent years BHA supported the Grand Canyon Protection Act, which would have made the mineral withdrawal permanent. Despite being passed multiple times by the House of Representatives in the 117th Congress and receiving a markup in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, this legislation was never passed into law.
On April 19, Interior Secretary Haaland accepted an invitation from Rep. Grijalva to visit the area of the proposed monument. We will continue to share updates as the monument proposal is developed and advanced by the Grand Canyon Tribal Coalition along with our conservation partners. Importantly, the landscape will continue to be managed by multiple-use agencies and the state of Arizona will retain wildlife management authority.
Legislation to Conserve Washington Public Lands and Waters
On April 20, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) reintroduced the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (H.R. 2765/S. 1254). BHA supports this legislation, which would designate 126,500 acres of Olympic National Forest as wilderness and 464 miles of waterways as a part of the Wild and Scenic Rivers System. These landscapes are critical headwaters for salmon and steelhead as well as provide habitat for unique big game species like Roosevelt elk. The bill would also ensure access is not diminished by keeping existing roads open to the public.
This legislation has passed the House with bipartisan support multiple times as part of the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act, a package of legislation supported by BHA in the 117th Congress. It was also given a hearing last Congress by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Attack on Boundary Waters Protections
On April 25, Rep. Pete Stauber (R-MN) introduced a resolution that would undo the Interior Department’s decision earlier this year with the U.S. Forest Service to initiate a 20-year mineral withdrawal of 225,504 acres in the Superior National Forest, upstream of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. BHA applauded this decision. Our members and partners have worked for years to secure protections for America’s most visited wilderness area from sulfide-ore mining proposals such as Twin Metals that pose a threat to the unique hydrology of the region.
Despite the claim that the Federal Land Policy Management Act allows for Congress to override a mineral withdrawal over 5,000 acres as intended by Rep. Stauber, legal scholars consider that mechanism unconstitutional, as it bypasses the president, as opposed to other tools like the Congressional Review Act. BHA will continue to monitor and push back against this ill-construed messaging bill that puts the health of the Boundary Waters in the crosshairs.
In January, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) reintroduced her Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act. BHA strongly supports this legislation, which would permanently protect the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore mining while allowing historic iron-ore taconite mining. Only Congress has the ability to enact a permanent minerals withdrawal.
Legislation to Protect New York-New Jersey Watersheds
On April 27, Reps. Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY) and Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) reintroduced the New York-New Jersey Watershed Protection Act (H.R. 2982/S. 1335). This region’s rivers including the Hudson, Mohawk, Raritan, Passaic, Hackensack and Bronx, among others, are critical to a providing fish and wildlife habitat in one of the most populated parts of our nation. This legislation would coordinate existing management plans along with federal resources to improve ecosystem health in addition to improving access to public waters. Federal partnerships in the watersheds of the Chesapeake Bay, Delaware River and Great Lakes have successfully yielded many benefits for those ecosystems as well as the sportsmen and women who enjoy them.
The New York and New Jersey chapters of BHA issued a statement supporting the bill:
“Representing hunters and anglers who rely on public lands and waters in the region, we support the New York-New Jersey Watershed Protection Act and the benefits it would have for fish and wildlife habitat. This bipartisan legislation would coordinate the management of this critically important watershed similar to successful, existing federal partnerships across the nation. By ensuring a healthy watershed, improving conservation values for fish and wildlife, and increasing public access to waterways, future generations of sportsmen and women will continue to enjoy quality outdoor opportunities.”