As September comes to a close it is anticipated that so will the operations of the federal government and with that comes impacts to our public lands and waters. As this is written, final details on what exactly this will all mean are lacking, but some additional information can be found below. In other news, this month two bills supported by BHA were passed into law and will soon be signed by the President: the Protecting Hunting Heritage and Education Act and the Duck Stamp Modernization Act. More details below including on the conservation of public lands in America’s Arctic, the introduction of legislation to cleanup abandoned mines and action by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
With the 2024 Fiscal Year beginning on October 1, the failure of Congress to pass an operating budget for the federal government, or to pass an extension of current government funding, will result in a government shutdown beginning on Sunday.
With hunting season underway across the country and the primary hunting months of October and November at our doorstep, the consequences of a government shutdown are likely to have direct impacts for the sportsmen and women who rely on our public lands and waters. While the exact impacts of Congress’s inability to pass a budget still are becoming clear, the possible loss of access to lands managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Forest Service looms large.
BHA is working to anticipate precisely what that will mean for our public lands, waters and wildlife and the impacts it will have on access for hunters and anglers. We will share more information as it becomes available in the coming days, but it is broadly anticipated that federal employees, including those at land management agencies, will be furloughed until the shutdown ends. It remains an open question if certain federal public lands and waters remain open to the public, but any services at these locations will likely be closed. Additionally, important stewardship work being undertaken on these shared landscapes that will cease to continue.
BHA strongly encourages members of Congress to pass a budget for the government and ensure that our land management agencies have the tools they need to conserve and steward our natural resources as well as maintain access for sportsmen and women. We recognize Senate leaders for working together to develop bipartisan solutions for funding the government in a stopgap measure as well as previously reporting all twelve bills by the Appropriations Committee in a bipartisan way, and we encourage House members and leaders in that chamber to follow the Senate’s responsible example, finding common ground on a short-term funding solution while we continue to work to address long-term needs
As the government is likely to shutdown, on behalf of hunters and anglers who rely on public lands and waters for our outdoor traditions, BHA urges the Department of the Interior Secretary Haaland and Department of Agriculture Secretary Vilsack to maintain access for sportsmen and women to the maximum extent possible on federal public lands across the National Wildlife Refuge System, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Forest Service.
School Funding for Hunter Education and Shooting Sports Programs
After dedicated lobbying by our staff on the Hill, school-based hunter's education and the National Archery in the Schools Program have had critical funding restored once more.
BHA has consistently shared our concern and frustration with the Department of Education’s interpretation of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which after passing last year has prohibited funds for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act from being used for “training in the use of a dangerous weapon.” This resulted in some schools withholding funding for the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) and hunter education programs.
BHA took a leading role in working with legislators in both chambers of Congress and partners across the hunting and shooting sports communities, with support from the Department of Education, to ensure a swift and decisive legislative solution to clarify the law and return funding to these programs and educational opportunities that benefit millions of American youths – the next generation of safe and responsible sportsmen and women.
Fresh off a month-long recess, the House Education and Workforce Committee unanimously voted to advance the Protecting Hunting Heritage and Education Act (H.R. 5110) led by Rep. Mark Green (R-TN), with amendments supported by BHA. Within two weeks, the House of Representatives voted to pass the bill with a vote of 424-1 on Sept. 26, following which the Senate passed the bill under unanimous consent on Sept. 27. This corrective legislation advanced incredibly swiftly with nearly universal support, and will now move to the President’s desk who has already committed to signing the bill.
BHA is committed to building the next generation of conservation leaders, and the fact that this bill was introduced and passed into law within 10 legislative days was a testament to its importance and the work of our community in the halls of Congress.
We also extended our thanks to the sponsors on behalf of the four bills that were introduced in the Senate to address this issue: S. 2735 led by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), S. 2736 led by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), S. 2802 led by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), and S. 2828 led by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). We greatly appreciate the leadership of those Senators, as well as Rep. Green for championing this priority.
Duck Stamp Modernization Act Heads to the President’s Desk
On September 20, the House of Representatives voted to pass the Duck Stamp Modernization Act (H.R. 2872) through a voice vote under a suspension of the rules with BHA’s support. Led by Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA) and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), this legislation would allow for hunters to use a digital federal duck stamp via their smartphone throughout the entire waterfowl season, improving accessibility and making it easier to get out into the field.
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 with hunters providing that funding for our nation’s wildlife.
Preceding this House vote, on July 27 prior to leaving for the month-long recess, the Senate unanimously passed their version of the bill (S. 788), led by Sen. John Boozman (R-AR) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). Having passed both chambers it will npw move to the President’s desk to be signed into law.
Introduction of Good Samaritan Legislation
On September 13, Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Jim Risch (R-ID) reintroduced the Good Samaritan Remediation of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act (S. 2781). This commonsense and bipartisan legislation would allow Good Samaritan entities such as state agencies, local governments, and nonprofits to clean up abandoned hardrock mine sites without assuming future liability. Currently, Good Samaritan groups who want to volunteer to restore these abandoned mines and improve water quality as well as fish and wildlife habitat would be liable for any future pollution from the site.
By implementing a pilot program with permits for qualified entities, the Good Samaritan Remediation of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act would facilitate private investments to fill resource and capacity gaps. With an estimated 40 percent of watersheds in the West contaminated by mine tailings and runoff this legislation is critical to restore healthy fish and wildlife habitat for future generations to enjoy.
With thousands of abandoned mine sites leaching toxic metals like arsenic and the source of acid drainage, these sites represent the largest source of pollution in the United States and threaten our public lands, waters and wildlife. Passing this legislation into law is a top priority for BHA and many of our partners in the 118th Congress.
Senate Committee Advances, and Tables, Conservation Legislation
On September 21, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted to advance a slate of legislation on a voice vote, typically done when there is a bipartisan agreement to advance noncontroversial legislation.
BHA supported the passage of the Nulhegan River and Paul Stream Wild and Scenic River Study Act (S. 432). Led by Sen. Peter Welch (D-VT), this bill would begin the process to consider designating 40 miles of Vermont 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.
Long supported by BHA, the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act (S. 2149) led by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) was also passed by voice vote. Nearly 80,000 acres would be designated as wilderness by this legislation. The carefully selected designations in this bill would provide crucial habitat security for a variety of wildlife while also protecting important watersheds for native fish such as cutthroat and bull trout. In addition, approximately 2,000 acres would be opened for snowmobiling in the proposed Otatsy Recreation Management Area while the Spread Mountain Recreation Management Area would be created to preserve mountain biking opportunities. You can read more in our press release here.
A member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) has long put a hold on the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act as he maintains that his Montana Sportsmen Conservation Act (S. 2216) must be passed alongside it. His legislation, which would remove protections from more than 100,000 acres of wilderness study areas in Montana, also advanced by voice vote on Thursday as part of a bipartisan compromise.
Despite BHA’s opposition, the North Dakota Trust Lands Completion Act (S. 1088) led by Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) was also passed by voice vote. By allowing the State of North Dakota latitude to relinquish broad swaths of state lands in exchange for federal public lands, this legislation poses significant consequences for sportsmen and women in North Dakota who rely on public access to enjoy hunting and fishing traditions in a state with extremely limited public lands.
The following bills supported by BHA were originally on the docket to be passed, but given their lack of universal support, they were tabled as the committee meeting was held short with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy addressing Congress that morning.
- S. 636, Dolores River National Conservation Area and Special Management Area Act, led by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO). Through establishing the Dolores River National Conservation Area and Dolores River Special Management Area the bill would conserve a total of 68,000 acres of public lands and waters. Management of these areas will be directed to conserve, protect, and enhance native fish, wildlife and recreational resources, among others.
- S. 1634, Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy Act, led by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO). This bill would protect and conserve more than 400,000 acres of public lands in Colorado, including regions that provide some of the best big game hunting opportunities in the state. It would increase wilderness areas, strengthen conservation protections and ensure the wild character of the San Juan Mountains, Thompson Divide and the White River National Forest.
- S. 1254, Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, led by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). This bill would establish 126,000 acres of wilderness in Washington’s Olympic National Forest while maintaining access by not closing existing roads. The bill would also designate 19 new Wild and Scenic Rivers that span 464 miles, protecting quality recreational access on our public waters.
- S. 1622, End Speculative Oil and Gas Leasing Act, led by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV). This bill would promote multiple use management on our public lands by requiring the Bureau of Land Management to regularly assess oil and gas development potential on public lands and prohibiting leasing on lands determined to have low or no development potential.
Administrative Action to Conserve Arctic Landscapes
On September 6, the Biden administration announced the cancellation of the final remaining oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as well as issued a draft supplemental environmental impact statement for the oil and gas leasing program on the Coastal Plain of the refuge. The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act requires two oil and gas lease sales in the refuge by the end of 2024. Only Congress can permanently conserve this important landscape, and BHA has long worked to ensure the 1.5-million-acre coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge is protected as designated wilderness. The administration also simultaneously announced the initiation of a conservation rule to strengthen protections for 13 million acres of designated Special Areas in the Western Arctic.
America's Arctic, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and important designated Special Areas such as Teshekpuk Lake in the Western Arctic, are some of the last great wild expanses in North America. Providing calving grounds for caribou along with habitat for musk oxen, all three species of North American bears, and wolves. Braided rivers as well as Arctic lakes and wetlands are rich with salmon, Artic grayling, Dolly Varden, and Arctic char. These rich wetland complexes also provide summer nesting sites for migratory waterfowl and shorebirds.
“As an Alaskan who found solace in these treasured landscapes during the grim pandemic years, I can testify that America’s Arctic is, in a word, essential,” said Barry Whitehill, a BHA life member from Fairbanks who is vice chair of the BHA Alaska chapter board. “This action by the administration speaks to the importance of these lands and waters to the American people. If our society can’t save a national treasure like the Arctic Refuge from industrial intrusion, then what can be saved?”
National Monument Proposed in Southern California
On September 25, Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA) called upon the Biden administration to designated the Chuckwalla National Monument using authority under the Antiquities Act. This would permanently conserve approximately 660,000 acres of public lands in the California desert home to desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, upland game and more that stretches west from the Coachella Valley region to the Colorado River in the east. Beyond the iconic desert bighorn sheep, burro and mule deer populations that inhabit this stretch of desert, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is analyzing the feasibility of reestablishing a nonessential experimental population of Sonoran pronghorn within the proposed monument boundaries.
Lands within Chuckwalla National Monument would remain under the authority of the Bureau of Land Management, maintaining access for hunters. Meanwhile the state of California would retain wildlife management authority, including active management for water resources to sustain wildlife populations.
Alongside this request of the administration, Rep. Ruiz introduced the Chuckwalla National Monument Establishment and Joshua Tree National Park Expansion Act (H.R. 5660). This legislation is a marker for an Antiquities Act designation, which BHA supports solely for Chuckwalla National Monument.
In addition to the national monument designation, this legislation would also expand Joshua Tree National Park by approximately 17,000 acres. These public lands in question are almost entirely landlocked behind private lands and access is a significant challenge here. They also have a history of being managed by NPS as a part of the former Joshua Tree National Monument. However, BHA has advocated for that landscape to remain under multiple-use management the same as the proposed Chuckwalla National Monument, rather than by the National Park Service.
BHA has participated in this process in order to ensure the interests of sportsmen and women are included in any designation. We will continue to push for the Chuckwalla National Monument and the best solution to conserve this important region for hunters and anglers.