Policy Updates

October was a tumultuous month on Capitol Hill, following the historic removal of Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House of Representatives on October 3. It wasn’t until October 25, after House Republicans failed to coalesce around three internally nominated candidates, that Mike Johnson of Louisiana’s 4th congressional district was elected the 56th Speaker of the House. 

During that three week period no activity could occur on the House floor. However, the month of October saw the House Natural Resources Committee take action on wildlife legislation supported by BHA. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee also considered several pieces of legislation of interest to BHA, both good and bad. 

Government Funding Update

With the 2023 Fiscal Year having ended on September 30, the federal government is still operating on a continuing resolution through November 17 – an extension of the previous year’s funding. Given that the House spent three weeks in October navigating the selection of a new Speaker, little progress has been made since then on advancing a budget for the current fiscal year.  

BHA is highly aware of the reality that a government shutdown remains possible should a budget fail to be agreed upon by November 17. This includes concerns regarding the direct impacts to sportsmen and women who rely on our public lands and waters. Importantly, the Department of the Interior has updated their contingency plans for each agency should a shutdown occur. 

BHA continues to work with and strongly encourages Congress to pass a budget so to ensure that our land management agencies have the necessary tools they need to conserve and steward our natural resources as well as maintain access for sportsmen and women.  

House Committee Advances Wildlife Funding Legislation 

On October 18, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife and Fisheries held a hearing on legislation to reauthorize several widely supported, bipartisan wildlife conservation programs.  

Led by Reps. David Joyce (R-OH) and Debbie Dingell (D-MI), the Wildlife Innovation and Longevity Driver Reauthorization Act (WILD) Act (H.R. 5009) would reauthorize the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program through 2028. This program provides technical and financial assistance to private landowners and other entities interested in improving wildlife habitat on their land. Over its lifetime of three and a half decades, more than 6 million acres have been conserved through voluntary efforts due to this program. 
 
Led by Reps. Maria Elvira Salazar (R-FL), Rick Larsen (D-WA), David Joyce (R-OH) and Mary Peltola (D-AK), the Migratory Birds of the Americas Conservation Enhancements Act (H.R. 4839) would reauthorize the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act through 2028. It would also make revisions to enhance the program including increased authorizations and lowering the required cost-sharing for grant recipients from 3:1 to 2:1 with the goal of making these grants more accessible to small organizations. In the last two decades, this program has conserved 5 million acres of bird habitat through competitive grants in addition to funding research and monitoring for migratory birds. 
 
Supported by BHA, both of these conservation programs provide significant benefits to hunters and anglers across the United States who rely on healthy habitat for fish and wildlife populations. 

Following this hearing, the House Natural Resources Committee advanced the WILD Act by voice vote during a markup on October 26. The Senate companion, S. 2395, was advanced out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in July by its leads Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) and Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV). 

Senate Committee Considers Natural Resources Legislation 

On October 25, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on a large docket of legislation including bills that BHA both supports and opposes.  

BHA shared our support for the Pecos Watershed Protection Act (S. 3033) led by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM). This legislation would withdraw 166,600 acres, primarily within the Santa Fe National Forest, from mineral development. The Pecos River watershed provides important coldwater habitat for trout and supports wildlife habitat valued for high quality elk and mule deer hunting, as well as opportunities to pursue bighorn sheep, black bear, dusky grouse and wild turkey. Mine waste spilled in the past resulted in decades of damage to the Pecos River and surrounding ecosystem, killing fish in 11 miles of the river. This legislation would ensure that the Pecos River is protected from future threats and continues to provide healthy, intact fish and wildlife habitat enjoyed by hunters and anglers. 

BHA also shared our opposition to two bills led by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) that would have negative impacts to public lands hunters and anglers, “A bill to codify certain public land orders relating to the revocation of certain withdrawals of public land in the State of Alaska.” (S. 175) and the Unrecognized Southeast Alaska Native Communities Recognition and Compensation Act (S. 1889). 

  • S.175 would open 27 million acres known as “D-1” lands across the State of Alaska to development. In the final days of the Trump administration, former Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Bernhardt revoked that status for these lands. Those orders never went into effect and were later postponed by DOI Secretary Haaland. Located in the Bristol Bay, Bering Sea Western Interior, East Alaska, Kobuk Seward and Ring of Fire regions, these wild public lands have enjoyed this conservation status since their withdrawal from mineral leasing in the early 1970’s. These vast undeveloped landscapes provide habitat and hunting opportunities for caribou, as well as waterways rich with salmon.
  • S.1889 would facilitate the removal of more than 100,000 acres of public lands from the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska, divesting them from the American public and granting them to private corporations. In doing so, these land transfers would undermine the integrity of public land management and access for future generations while threatening valuable fish and wildlife habitat. Hunters and anglers across the United States have the unparalleled opportunity to enjoy public lands and waters which we rely on for the pursuit of our outdoor heritage. BHA cannot support transferring acreage from our public lands estate that would reduce opportunities for sportsmen and women.

Senate Introduces Public Land Transfer Legislation 

On October 24, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) reintroduced the Helping Open Underutilized Space to Ensure Shelter (HOUSES) Act. He was joined by Sens. John Barrasso (R-WY), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK). This legislation would permit and expedite the transfer of multiple-use federal public lands for residential development at discounted rates, “well below market value.”  

Sen. Lee has had a long-term interest in proposing to transfer public land out of public hands, including previous attempts via introducing harmful legislation. The HOUSES Act is reminiscent of historic proposals by Sen. Lee to transfer and sell off our public lands, while failing to provide a meaningful solution to address a lack of affordable housing. This legislation is yet another bad faith attempt with an unsatisfactory justification.   

The Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act already allows for the exchange of specific, low value, isolated parcels of public land where it is necessary. 

As the voice for our wild public lands, waters and wildlife, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is opposed to any legislation such as the HOUSES Act that would limit the ability for sportsmen and women, as well as all Americans, to access our outdoor heritage by selling off public land. 

Take action here to share your opposition to the HOUSES Act! 

Join BHA to voice your opposition to the HOUSES Act and any attempt to transfer our public lands out of public hands.