As the early months of the 118th Congress progress, BHA and our chapters are coming out in support of reintroduced legislation that would promote the conservation of fish and wildlife habitat across the country. The action will continue to heat up on Capitol Hill as we continue to advocate for these bills, and others, to be advanced by Congress.
Legislation to Conserve Oregon Public Lands and Waters
On Feb. 15, the Oregon Recreation Enhancement Act was reintroduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and cosponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR). This legislation would expand the Wild Rogue Wilderness by nearly 60,000 acres. It also would establish two new recreation areas, the Rogue Canyon Recreation Area and the Molalla Recreation Area, conserving more than 128,000 acres of public lands and waters. Finally, it would solidify the conservation of more than 100,000 acres of public lands near Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area from mining by permanently extending current protections granted under the 20-year Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal. These designations would ensure healthy headwaters important to salmon and steelhead as well and as critical wildlife habitat currently enjoyed by hunters and anglers, protecting these areas for future generations as well.
On the final day of January, Sen. Merkley led the reintroduction of the Smith River National Recreation Area Expansion Act with Sen. Wyden as a cosponsor. This legislation would expand the existing Smith River National Recreation Area by 58,000 acres in addition to designating 74 miles of waterways as components of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Its passage would provide significant benefits for both fish and wildlife by protecting critically important rivers, streams and lands adjacent to the North Fork Smith River watershed. The Smith River watershed is one of the last remaining salmon strongholds on the Pacific Coast as it is one of the largest undammed river systems left in the United States.
“The Oregon Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers continues to stand with the sportsmen and women of Oregon for the protection of the wild lands and waters of the state,” said Justin Gindlesperger, SW regional director of the Oregon chapter of BHA. “The expansion of the Smith River National Recreation Area establishes an essential safeguard to the watershed of the Smith River so future generations can experience a remarkable and truly wild landscape here in Southern Oregon. We appreciate and fully support the effort to protect such a valuable resource.”
Legislation to Study the Conservation of Vermont Rivers
On Feb. 15, the Nulhegan River and Paul Stream Wild and Scenic River Study Act was reintroduced by the Vermont delegation, Rep. Becca Balint (D-VT) and Sens. Peter Welch (D-VT) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT). If passed, this legislation would begin the process to consider designating 40 miles of waterways under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Among Vermont’s wildest rivers, these waters provide important habitat for native brook trout enjoyed by sportsmen and women.
Bicameral, Bipartisan Arctic Wilderness Legislation
On Feb. 1, the Arctic Refuge Protection Act was reintroduced by Reps. Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Sen. Markey (D-MA). The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was originally established by President Eisenhower “for the purpose of preserving unique wildlife, wilderness and recreational values.” However, oil and gas leasing on the coastal plain of the refuge is currently mandated through an unrelated provision included in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The Arctic Refuge Protection Act would designate the 1.5 million-acre coastal plain of the refuge as wilderness. This region is too critical to fish and wildlife to allow development, which threatens the migration of the Porcupine caribou herd, braided rivers holding fish species like Dolly Varden and Arctic char, and a spectacular wetland ecosystem that provides summer nesting grounds for millions of waterfowl.