June saw the House of Representatives pass the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, the greatest investment in fish and wildlife in a generation, which now awaits a vote by the full Senate. Throughout the month Congress reviewed a slate of public lands bills in both the House and Senate this last month. Additionally, the Forest Service announced the environmental assessment for a 20-year moratorium on copper-nickel mining in the watershed upstream of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Senate Public Lands Legislative Hearing
On June 7, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held hearing on a wide variety of public lands bills, several of which were endorsed by BHA. Additionally, two bills were considered that would target public lands and waters, which BHA shared our strong opposition to.
The following pieces of legislation supported by BHA would ensure healthy fish and wildlife habitat enjoyed by hunters and anglers now and for future generations. We hope to see them advanced by the committee and full Senate.
- Grand Canyon Protection Act (S. 387) led by Senator Kelly (D-AZ), which would withdraw more than one million acres of federal lands surrounding the Grand Canyon from mining and mineral leasing, while still allowing for the multiple-use of these public lands. Potential uranium mining threatens to irreparably harm the water supply and important fish and wildlife habitat.
- Montana Headwaters Legacy Act (S. 2254) led by Senator Tester (D-MT), which would designate 385.4 miles in the Upper Missouri River and Yellowstone River watersheds as Wild & Scenic Rivers, nearly doubling the state's protected river segments. These clean waters serve a critical role in Montana’s outdoor recreation and agricultural industries.
- Root and Stem Project Authorization Act (S. 3046) led by Senator Daines (R-MT), which would allow landscape scale forest restoration projects to be conducted through more efficient and effective forest management by empowering collaboratives and public-private partnerships. Doing so would help to encourage public and private partners to invest in active forest management at the scale and pace that is necessary.
- M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act (S. 3129) led by Senator Heinrich (D-NM), which would protect specified segments of rivers and creeks of the Gila River system totaling 446 miles through the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The threatened Gila trout, one of New Mexico’s revered native trout species, relies on critical habitat provided by the watershed.
- Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument Expansion Act (S. 4080) led by Senator Padilla (D-CA), which would expand the existing 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.
BHA formally opposed both the Unrecognized Southeast Alaska Native Communities Recognition and Compensation Act (S. 3269) led by Senator Murkowski (R-AK) and the HOUSES Act (S. 4062) led by Senator Lee (R-UT). Each of these bills would facilitate the divestiture of public lands and shift ownership away from all Americans. In doing so, they would undermine the integrity of land and wildlife management across migration corridors and intact habitat threatening future generation’s access to the outdoors. Hunters, anglers and recreators in the United States have the unparalleled opportunity to enjoy 640 million acres of public lands and waters, spanning a diverse range of fish and wildlife habitat.
National Wildlife Refuge Hunting and Fishing Announcement
On June 8, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced an expansion proposal for hunting and fishing opportunities on 19 national wildlife refuges impacting 54,000 acres of public lands and waters. The proposed expansion was applauded by BHA, recognizing that lack of access is the number one reason cited by sportsmen and women for forgoing time in the field.
However, along with the potential expansion was included language that would prohibit the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle in the newly opened areas. BHA criticized this mandate for many reasons, including the lack of a science-based determination process with opportunities for stakeholder input and public comments and legal issues that prevent ammunition manufacturers from ramping up production to make non-lead alternatives widely available and affordable for anyone of any means. BHA encourages sportsmen and women to consider the voluntary use of non-lead ammunition and tackle as directed in our North American policy statement.
House Passes the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act
On June 14, through a bipartisan vote of 231-190, the House of Representatives passed the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA). Led by Representative Dingell (D-MI), this legislation would invest an annual $1.3 billion in state fish and wildlife management agencies and provide an additional annual $97.5 million for tribal management.
By targeting investments in state and tribal wildlife action plans, this unprecedented legislation will provide the resources necessary to implement proven management practices, such as active restoration, invasive species removal, research, watershed management and collaborative management across state lines and tribal lands.
Along with the Alliance for America’s Fish and Wildlife, a broad coalition of stakeholders, BHA has been a vocal advocate of RAWA. Following the House vote, the Senate must now pass this legislation before passing it on to the White House. The Senate version of the bill is led by Senators Heinrich (D-NM) and Blunt (R-MO) and has 36 nearly evenly divided bipartisan cosponsors, demonstrating enough expected support for it to pass when it comes to the floor for a vote.
Read more here in this recent article by Outdoor Life.
Boundary Waters 20-Year Mineral Withdrawal
On June 23, the Forest Service announced a long-awaited environmental assessment (EA) which shows that copper-nickel mining in the Rainy River watershed poses a major risk to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The EA proposes a 20-year withdrawal of mineral leasing in the 225,000-acre region of the Superior National Forest.
BHA and our partners including Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters applauded this enormous step to long-term protections for the unparalleled hunting, fishing and recreation opportunities of the Boundary Waters, the most visited wilderness area in the United States. The effort to implement this withdrawal has spanned multiple administrations, however only Congress can permanently protect the region. The Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act (H.R. 2794) led by Representative McCollum (D-MN), which would do just that, received a hearing by the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources last month.
The announcement by the Forest Service includes a 30-day public comment period that ends July 28.
House Committee Takes Up Public Lands Legislation
On June 23, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands held a hearing that included the following two pieces of legislation that BHA shared support for and wishes to see advance.
The Cerro De Olla Wilderness Act (H.R. 2522) led by Representative Leger Fernandez (D-NM). This legislation would designate 13,000 acres in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument as wilderness. This landscape provides habitat and important wildlife corridors for species such as elk, mule deer, pronghorn, black bears and mountain lions. In addition to conserving wildlife habitat, this legislation would also protect traditional Indigenous uses and cultural values and maintain current access routes. Hunters and anglers, as well as other recreationists, would benefit from permanent protections for this region so that future generations can enjoy the same high- quality experiences afforded by these lands, waters and wildlife. Senator Heinrich’s companion legislation (S. 177) was passed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in May.
The Wild Rogue Conservation and Recreation Enhancement Act (H.R. 7509) led by Representative DeFazio (D-OR). This legislation would establish a 98,000-acre Rogue Canyon Recreation Area and expand the existing Wild Rogue Wilderness Area by almost an additional 60,000 acres. These designations would protect watersheds that provide important habitat for salmon and steelhead. Conserving this habitat is key to ensuring that future generations have the opportunity to access public lands and waters with sustainable populations of these remarkable fish. Similar legislation led by Senator Wyden (D-OR), the Oregon Recreation Enhancement Act (S. 1589), was passed by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in November of last year.