With the House of Representatives finally having confirmed their new leadership under Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) at the end of October, the first order of business was passing yet another extension of last year’s government funding through the new year. This came ahead of the government shutdown deadline on Nov. 17. This month on Capitol Hill also saw consideration of several BHA priorities by committees in both chambers of Congress that you can read more about below.
Government Funding Update
The federal government continues to operate on a continuing resolution – a second extension of the previous year’s government funding signed into law on Nov. 17. Congress continues to negotiate with a new, tiered deadline for a partial shutdown beginning on Jan. 19 and a full shutdown on Feb. 2.
BHA continues to work with and strongly encourages Congress to pass a budget that funds our land management agencies that conserve and steward our natural resources as well as to guarantee access for sportsmen and women to federal public lands and waters. With a government shutdown still possible in the new year, BHA is aware of the potential impacts to sportsmen and women.
In September, the Department of the Interior updated their contingency plans for each agency should a shutdown occur.
House Passes Bill that Would Gut Interior Funding
On Nov. 3, the House of Representatives passed their Interior Appropriations bill (H.R. 4821). If enacted, it would result in devasting cuts – reducing funding for the Bureau of Land Management by 18%, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by 13%, and U.S. Forest Service non-fire accounts by 8%. It also included numerous policy riders opposed by BHA including those that would guarantee the following:
- Eliminating the Superior National Forest mineral withdrawal aimed to protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area from the threat of sulfide mining.
- Requiring the reinstatement of mineral leases held by Twin Metals in the Rainy River watershed, upstream of the Boundary Waters.
- Prohibiting the BLM Public Lands Rule, or any other similar future rulemaking.
- Prohibiting the listing of the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act if determined necessary by the USFWS. Wildlife management should be driven by science, not politics.
- Prohibiting the cancellation of oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
- Prohibiting the BLM Conservation Rule for the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska.
A failed amendment led by Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-WY) would have cut funding for the Bureau of Land Management by 50%. Unfortunately, though it failed, this ill-intended and short-sighted amendment received a significant amount of votes in favor, 144, despite the 280 votes against.
More details in a BHA statement from when the bill was advanced by the Appropriations Committee can be found here on our website.
House Introduces Legislation to Allocate Revenue to Pittman-Robertson
On Nov. 9, Rep. Blake Moore (R-UT) introduced the Tax Stamp Revenue Transfer for Wildlife and Recreation Act joined by Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME). This legislation would divert the revenue generated from the $200 federal tax stamp on suppressor purchases from the Treasury General Account. Instead, 85% of this revenue would be transferred to the Pittman Robertson Wildlife Restoration Trust Fund – a policy strongly supported by BHA. The other 15% would be earmarked for expediting the review process by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives for suppressor purchases. This legislation would direct new funding reaching nearly $200 million annually for wildlife conservation efforts, law enforcement, hunter recruitment and recreational shooting ranges.
Senate Committee Highlights Wildlife Migration Corridors
On Nov. 14, the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife held a hearing to consider the importance of wildlife crossings to facilitate wildlife movement and improve migration corridors. Many big game species such as mule deer and bighorn sheep rely heavily upon movement corridors for seasonal migration or to maintain healthy populations.
BHA was greatly encouraged to see bipartisan interest from both Subcommittee Chairman Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Ranking Member Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) for holding this important forum to discuss how to best address the needs of our fish and wildlife species that must move to maintain healthy populations. This is especially critical as the $350 million granted for a wildlife crossing pilot program under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is implemented and given the need need to allocate dedicated funding for former Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s Secretarial Order 3362: Improving Habitat Quality in Western Big-Game Winter Range and Migration Corridors.
Legislation to Rollback Conservation of Arctic Taken up by House Committee
On Nov. 29, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a hearing to consider legislation led by Subcommittee Chairman Pete Stauber (R-MN) and cosponsored by Rep. Mary Peltola (AK-D) that would reverse two significant actions taken by the Department of the Interior in September to conserve public lands in America’s Arctic. BHA opposes this legislation that would reinstate oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, an area recommended for wilderness designation, as well as reverse a rulemaking process to conserve 13 million acres of designated “Special Areas” on public lands in the Western Arctic.
Both the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and designated Special Areas such as Teshekpuk Lake in the Western Arctic contain some of the last great wild expanses in North America and provides calving grounds for caribou along with habitat for muskoxen, all three species of North American bears, and wolves. Arctic lakes, wetlands, and braided rivers are rich with salmon, Artic grayling, Dolly Varden, and Arctic char. These intact wetland complexes also provide summer nesting sites for shorebirds and migratory waterfowl – habitat critical to the health of the Pacific flyway.
House Outdoor Recreation Legislation Follows the Senate
On Nov. 30, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands held a hearing to consider the Expanding Public Lands Outdoor Recreation Experiences (EXPLORE) Act. This bipartisan legislation, led by Chairman Bruce Westerman (R-AR) and Ranking Member Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) is substantially similar to the America’s Outdoor Recreation Act which was unanimously advanced by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee back in May. BHA has supported this comprehensive package which would provide important benefits for hunters and anglers by modernizing the management of our public lands and waters and establishing greater public access through the following:
- Streamlining recreation permitting and fees for public lands and waters.
- Improving outdoor recreation data and infrastructure.
- Requiring vehicle-use maps for public lands be updated.
- Ending the waste of non-native animal antlers, horns and capes harvested by volunteers on National Park System land.
- Ensuring that each BLM district and national forest has a designated shooting range.
- Establishing a grant program for the inspection and decontamination of watercraft to avoid the spread of aquatic invasive species.
A section-by-section summary of the EXPLORE Act can be found here.