Despite the ongoing public comment period for the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed Public Lands Rule, during the month of June the House Natural Resources Committee took action to advance legislation on a party-line vote that would preemptively block the rule. Recognizing the numerous benefits to hunters and anglers that would come with elevating conservation as a use of our public lands, BHA opposed this bill. New hunting opportunities on three units in the National Wildlife Refuge System were announced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with a proposal to restrict the use of lead ammunition on those units and eight others.
Reintroduced Legislation to Codify the Roadless Rule
On June 6, the Roadless Area Conservation Act (H.R. 3853/S. 1831) was reintroduced by Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA). This legislation would 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. Featuring 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. Codifying the Roadless Rule would ensure both the conservation value of these landscapes while continuing to allow for community infrastructure, necessary forest management and recreational access.
In January of this year, BHA applauded the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s decision to restore roadless protections for the Tongass National Forest, which is the largest intact temperate rainforest on Earth and the only place that provides habitat for all five Pacific salmon species. Due to the food web sustained by salmon, the Tongass is also home to the highest concentration of brown bears in North America. Other sought-after game species in the region include black bears, mountain goats, and Sitka black-tailed deer. The Roadless Area Conservation Act would guarantee future protections for the Tongass to the benefit of hunters and anglers.
Legislation to Conserve Oregon’s Owyhee Canyon Country
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) reintroduced the Malheur County Empowerment for the Owyhee (Malheur CEO) Act (S. 1890) on June 8. This legislation would permanently protect 1 million acres of wilderness in eastern Oregon, conserving intact fish and wildlife habitat in this unique canyon landscape. Hunters can pursue big game species including bighorn sheep, pronghorn, elk and mule deer as well as upland birds like chukar and greater sage-grouse. Meanwhile, native populations of redband trout are sought after by anglers along with brown trout. Sportsmen and women would have a permanent voice regarding the future of this protected area through a seat on the CEO group that is tasked with managing the landscape through a consensus-based decision making process. As a member of the Owyhee Sportsmen Coalition, BHA has taken part in years of stakeholder engagement and collaboration alongside conservation groups, recreators, and ranchers to develop this legislation.
House Committee Advances Legislation to Withdraw BLM Public Lands Rule
Following a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on June 15 to consider the WEST Act (H.R. 3397), legislation led by Rep. John Curtis (R-UT) that would prohibit the Bureau of Land Management from advancing its proposed Public Lands Rule, the committee advanced that bill on a party-line vote during a markup held on June 21.
BHA opposes this bill that would prematurely undermine a transparent rulemaking process and marginalize public input from states, local governments and individuals motivated to direct the BLM as they finalize a strong management rule. Hunters and anglers have numerous reasons to support the proposed rule, and thousands have been submitting public comments with recommendations on how to clarify or improve it.
The proposed rule would for the first time elevate conservation as a “use” of public lands, putting conservation on equal footing with other uses on the more than 245 million acres managed by the BLM. For hunters, anglers and others with an interest in the health of fish and wildlife, this rulemaking represents an opportunity to protect and improve landscapes and watersheds with priority habitat.
The committee also advanced Rep. Garrett Graves’ (R-LA) Duck Stamp Modernization Act (H.R. 2872) through unanimous consent during the June 21 markup. This would make it easier for waterfowl hunters to comply with the law by allowing a digital stamp to be downloaded to a smartphone that will remain valid to be carried in the field throughout the entire season. Currently a digital stamp is only valid for 45 days before a physical stamp must be carried by the hunter. Over the last 89 years, the federal duck stamp has raised more than $1 billion for wetland habitat conservation.
Senate Hearing on Legislation to Study Conserving Vermont Waterways
Also on June 21, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks held a hearing that included consideration of Nulhegan River and Paul Stream Wild and Scenic River Study Act (S. 432) led by Sen. Peter Welch (D-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.
New Hunting Access Proposed on National Wildlife Refuges
On June 22, the U.S. Fish and Wildife Service announced new hunting opportunities on 3,000 acres across three units of the National Wildlife Refuge System. These include the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama, Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge in Florida and Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Minnesota. BHA applauded this expansion of access to sportsmen and women.
However, the draft rule does not allow lead ammunition to be used in these locations and proposes eliminating lead ammunition and tackle at eight national wildlife refuges: Blackwater, Chincoteague, Eastern Neck, Erie, Great Thicket, Patuxent Research, Rachel Carson, and Wallops Island national wildlife refuges.
Scarcity and price of nonlead alternatives presents a challenge to many sportsmen and women, particularly in rural communities where many refuges are located. This presents a troubling question of equitable access, and high ammunition costs could price out many hunters who can’t afford nonlead alternatives. BHA believes that decisions about the use of non-lead ammunition and fishing tackle should be voluntary and incentive based in the absence of significant fish and wildlife impacts. Our North American Policy Statement can be found here.
“We are encouraged that the USFWS is seeking guidance from the federal Hunting and Wildlife Conservation Council, whose members carry significant expertise in this area, to work collaboratively in developing policies and incentives regarding the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle on Refuge System lands and waters,” said John Gale, BHA vice president of policy and government relations.