Policy Updates

BHA applauded a major action taken this month by the Biden administration to designate two new national monuments through the Antiquities Act: Avi Kwa Ame National Monument, which spans more than half-million acres in southern Nevada and includes important desert bighorn sheep habitat, and the approximately 6,000-acre Castner Range National Monument in west Texas. March also saw action on important public lands and outdoor recreation legislation by both the Senate and House of Representatives (see details below). A resolution that would overturn the definition of “Waters of the United States” was passed by both the Senate and the House, despite the opposition of BHA and several regional and national partner organizations, though President Biden has indicated that he intends to veto it.

Southwest National Monuments Designated

At the White House Conservation in Action Summit on March 21, the long-anticipated Avi Kwa Ame National Monument was designated by President Biden. Encompassing approximately 506,814 acres in southern Nevada, the new national monument is home to diverse species of wildlife and their habitat, including migration corridors for desert bighorn sheep, and is surrounded by nine distinct wilderness areas.

Importantly, under the proclamation language the landscape will continue to be managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and the state of Nevada will retain wildlife management authority, including active management for water resources to sustain wildlife populations. Hunting and existing public access opportunities will be maintained, and the proclamation requires representatives from the hunting community to be on the monument advisory committee.

The designation of Castner Range National Monument in west Texas also was announced that morning. Located on Fort Bliss, the monument comprises 6,672 acres of the historic testing and training site for the U.S. Army during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. The monument will be managed by the Army, and the landscape will undergo a Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) process to ensure public safety before public access is allowed there - which will happen for the first time in decades.

Along with the two monument designations, it was announced that the Federal Highway Administration and the Department of Transportation would soon open the Wildlife Crossings Pilot Program for applications. BHA supported the inclusion of this new program in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The summit also included the release of new guidance for federal agencies to incorporate the conservation and connectivity of wildlife corridors into decision-making. In 2018, then Interior Department Secretary Zinke issued Secretarial Order 3362 to improve habitat quality and Western big game winter range and migration corridors​ for antelope, elk and mule deer.

Read BHA’s press release here.

Introduction of Recovering America’s Wildlife Act

Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (S. 1149), commonly referred to as RAWA, was reintroduced on March 30 by Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Thom Tillis (R-NC). BHA strongly supports this legislation which is the bipartisan product of decades of hard work by those who share an interest in securing funds needed for state fish and wildlife agencies and Tribes to reverse population declines for at-risk species.

RAWA would dedicate nearly $1.4 billion annually to help state and Tribal fish and wildlife management agencies proactively manage at-risk species and prevent them from being added to the federal list of threatened and endangered species. While not all at-risk species are game species, they do share the same habitat with critical game animals like mallards, mule deer, pronghorn and wild trout. Improving habitat for one species benefits all of them, including wild game.

In the 117th Congress, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) led the effort to advance RAWA in the House of Representatives including its passage on the House floor with a bipartisan vote of 231-190. Last Congress RAWA was also reported by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee with bipartisan vote of 15-5. It was included in negotiations until the last minute for the must-pass Omnibus Appropriations bill last December. BHA is dedicated to ensuring RAWA is passed into law during the 118th Congress.

Read BHA’s press release here.

Take action to support RAWA!

DOI Restoration and Resilience Framework and Bison Announcement

March 3, the Department of the Interior announced its Restoration and Resilience Framework, outlining a broad plan to coordinate agency programs and effect on-the-ground change by making targeted, strategic investments in critical landscapes that improve climate resilience. Components of the plan will impact a range of key ecosystems, species and priorities across the U.S.

In conjunction with this announcement, Interior officials made commitments to restoring wild and healthy populations of American bison to U.S. public lands as part of an overall plan for conserving the prairie grassland ecosystem. BHA applauds these strategies and efforts to restore grasslands and sagebrush habitat that in return will help restore wild bison to the North American landscape. DOI will work in partnership with states, Tribes, landowners and other entities as outlined by the new Secretarial Order. More than $25 million from the Inflation Reduction Act will drive the new program.

Read BHA’s press release here.

Legislation to Conserve New Mexico Public Lands and Waters

The Cerro de la Olla Wilderness Establishment Act (S. 539/H.R. 1303) was reintroduced by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández (D-NM) on March 2. This legislation would would designate 13,000 acres of wilderness in northern New Mexico while maintaining current routes used by sportsmen and women as well as other outdoor recreators. In the 117th Congress, this legislation received a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee and was reported out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee by a unanimous vote.

“We applaud the reintroduction of the Cerro de la Olla Wilderness Establishment Act by Senator Martin Heinrich and Representative Teresa Leger Fernández,” said Mike Farrington, BHA NM chapter vice chair. “Supported by sportsmen and women, this legislation would permanently conserve more than 13,000 acres of public lands in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. A unique caldera, this landscape is an important migratory corridor for elk and provides habitat for other game species such as mule deer, mountain lions and black bear.”

On March 14, Sen. Heinrich and Rep. Gabe Vasquez (D-NM) led the reintroduction of the M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act (S. 776/H.R. 1611). This legislation would permanently conserve approximately 446 miles of waterways by establishing them as wild and scenic. Doing so would enhance hunting, angling and other outdoor activities by safeguarding pristine waters in the region that, despite being one of the last free-flowing river systems in this region, remains at threat of diversion and dam proposals. The Gila River watershed sustains critical habitat for the Gila trout, one of New Mexico’s two revered native trout species. During its markup in the 117th Congress, this legislation was reported out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee with a bipartisan vote.

Read BHA’s press release here.

Take action to support the Cerro de la Olla Wilderness Establishment Act!

Take action to support the M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act!

Legislation to Expand National Monument in California

On March 7, the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument Expansion Act (S. 683/H.R. 1396) was reintroduced by Sens. Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Reps. John Garamendi (D-CA) and Mike Thompson (D-CA). This legislation would transfer nearly 4,000 acres administered by the BLM to the existing national monument that BHA supported designating in 2015. This region provides important habitat for game species including black-tailed deer, wild turkey, black bears and huntable herds of wild tule elk. The bill also would direct the BLM and Forest Service to finalize a management plan for the monument, which has languished since its designation. Last Congress this legislation was reported out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee unanimously and received a hearing by the House Natural Resources Committee.

Read a post on BHA’s blog here.

Take action to support Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument Expansion Act!

Legislation to Protect Nevada’s Ruby Mountains

On March 8, the Ruby Mountains Protection Act (S. 706) was reintroduced by Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV). This legislation would prohibit oil and gas leasing on more than 300,000 acres of the Ruby Mountains subdistrict of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and nearly 40,000 acres of the Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The region provides a critical migratory corridor for the state’s largest mule deer herd, sage grouse habitat, and robust fisheries including Lahontan cutthroat trout, the Nevada state fish. The Ruby Mountains Protection Act passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in the 117th Congress with bipartisan support.

 “We thank Sen. Cortez Masto for her leadership on reintroducing the Ruby Mountains Protection Act, which would withdraw nearly 350,000 acres of public land from oil and gas leasing, removing the threat of habitat fragmentation while maintaining multiple use,” said Bryce Pollock, BHA Nevada chapter policy co-chair. “Sportsmen and women applaud this legislation that would conserve critical habitat in the migratory corridor for Nevada’s largest mule deer herd as well as streams and lakes populated by Lahontan cutthroat trout.”

Read BHA’s press release here.

Take action to support the Ruby Mountains Protection Act!

President’s Proposed Budget Includes Conservation Priorities

On March 9, the White House released the president’s draft budget for fiscal year 2024 as well as the Department of the Interior Budget in Brief. Overall, these requests are a strong starting place for the appropriations cycle this year with important boosts in funding for conservation programs and the agencies that oversee them, including the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Forest Service.

To BHA’s dismay the president’s funding request for the cleanup of abandoned hardrock mines was only $30 million, or less than half of the $65 million request in the president’s budget last fiscal year. The Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act authorized $3 billion for an abandoned hardrock mine cleanup program that has yet to be appropriated.

Both chambers of Congress have begun holding budget hearings that will guide the appropriations process for Fiscal Year 2024. BHA attended several hearings with witnesses from the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Forest Service testifying. As the House and Senate draft their budget, we expect a significant difference in funding levels that will need to be reconciled. BHA also submitted testimony on behalf of our priorities and is working with appropriators on Capitol Hill to ensure that robust funding allocated in the coming fiscal year for programs that benefit fish and wildlife habitat and access to our public lands and waters.

Read BHA’s press release here.

Colorado Public Lands and Waters Legislation

In March, the Dolores River National Conservation Area and Special Management Area Act (S. 636/H.R. 1534) was reintroduced by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO). This legislation would benefit hunters and anglers by conserving habitat for native fish and wildlife in southwest Colorado in addition to improving recreation opportunities on our public lands and waters. The establishment of the Dolores River National Conservation Area and Dolores River Special Management Area would conserve a total of 68,000 acres of public lands and waters. Management of these areas would be directed to conserve, protect and enhance native fish, wildlife and recreational resources, among others.

More details can be found here.

Outdoor Recreation Legislation

America’s Outdoor Recreation Act (S. 873) was introduced March 16 by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Ranking Member John Barrasso (R-WY). This comprehensive package of legislation has the support of a broad community of stakeholders with certain provisions being supported by BHA for years. It would provide important benefits for hunters and anglers by modernizing the management our 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;
  • requiring published notice of public land closures;
  • ending the waste of non-native animal antlers, horns and capes harvested by volunteers on National Park System land;
  • prioritizing finalizing travel management plans for the BLM and Forest Service;
  • 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.

Standalone bills that contain some of those provisions were considered during a Natural Resources Federal Lands Subcommittee hearing on March 28, including the Federal Land Interior Media Act (H.R. 1576) led by Rep. Russ Fulcher (R-ID), the Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act (H.R. 1527) led by Reps. John Curtis (R-UT) and Joe Neguse (D-CO), and the Range Access Act (H.R. 1614) led by Reps. Blake Moore (R-UT) and Jimmy Panetta (D-CA).

Waters of the United States

In the final days of 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency announced the final revised definition of “Waters of the United States” rule, which integrates the best available science and input from the public in a framework that supports healthy habitat, clean water and public health, as well as agricultural activity and economic development. This was met with applause from BHA and other conservation organizations. The new, revised definition is supported by hunters and anglers, as it has substantial benefits for clean water, healthy wetlands, and habitat for fish and wildlife. This rule reinstated policies originating from the Reagan administration that have been implemented with widespread success under Republican and Democratic administrations alike.

The House voted 227-198 to pass a resolution on March 9 that would repeal this rule through the Congressional Review Act (CRA). The Senate later passed the same resolution on March 29 with a vote of 53-43. The CRA allows Congress to overturn a federal agency rulemaking within 60 congressional business days with a simple majority. BHA and many of our partners shared our opposition with members of Congress to using the CRA to overturn this tool for Clean Water Act protections, which also would prohibit the establishment of a rule “substantially of the same form,” eliminating the possibility of any future rulemakings on the matter. President Biden has vowed to veto the resolution when it comes to his desk.

Separately, BHA is involved in an amicus curiae brief with the Supreme Court of the United States defending the Clean Water Act and challenges brought from two northern Idaho landowners seeking to undermine regulatory authorities under Waters of the U.S.