A May 17th business meeting held by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee was a highly anticipated opportunity to advance multiple conservation and recreation policy priorities supported by Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. It marked the first time any of these bills had received a review in the 118th Congress.
Typically, a business meeting – where legislation is amended or marked up, and then voted on by committee members – is preceded by a legislative hearing. However, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee chose to consider and hold an expedited vote on a slate of bills that were previously reviewed and rolled over from the 117th Congress.
BHA has advocated for eight of the bills under consideration both at the grassroots level and on Capitol Hill. We are gratified by the committee’s action to advance them – and we offer our thanks to Chairman Joe Manchin for his leadership in supporting these BHA priorities.
Each of the eight bills we support received a bipartisan vote during the committee meeting, and four of them were passed through a voice vote, which indicates no recorded opposition. Now they await consideration by the full Senate – which we are urging the Senate to commit to doing as soon as possible.
America’s Outdoor Recreation Act (S. 873)
This legislation led by Chairman Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Ranking Member John Barrasso (R-WY) would modernize the management of our public lands and waters. Language from a multitude of bills was compiled to make the first comprehensive outdoor recreation package in fifty years.
Key provisions in the bill would expedite and simplify the permitting process for public lands and waters recreation, providing significant benefits for hunters and anglers. The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management would be required to implement a uniform permitting process for outfitters and guides, and joint permits would be authorized for activities covering lands managed by multiple agencies. In addition to other permitting improvements, this legislation would eliminate duplicative processes, reduce costs, and shorten processing times. Further streamlining would expand current National Park Service policy that does not require fees and permits for small film crews on lands managed by the Department of the Interior and Department of Agriculture.
By authorizing the donation of hides, horns and antlers from wildlife management activities of non-native species on National Park Service land, the bill would avoid the waste of wildlife and fully respect harvested animals in this unique circumstance. Priority consideration for these donations would be given to the volunteers who participated in the wildlife management activity.
The legislation would also require that each national forest and BLM district have a designated public shooting range without a user fee, improving opportunities to prepare for hunting season as well as establishing appropriate facilities for safe shooting while consolidating use and reducing litter on public lands.
This bill was passed by voice vote. The House Natural Resources Committee also has begun consideration of several standalone bills that include the same language as the America’s Outdoor Recreation Act. This piecemeal approach will then need to be reconciled with the Senate version.
Smith River National Recreation Area Expansion Act (S.162)
This legislation led by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) would expand the existing Smith River National Recreation Area by 58,000 acres into the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in southwest Oregon. It also would designate 74 miles of waterways as components of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
The existing national recreation area, which currently stops at the California border, provides access for hunting and fishing. Its expansion, along with wild and scenic river designations, would provide increased protection for coho and Chinook salmon as well as coastal cutthroat trout in one of the largest undammed river systems in the United States. This bill received a vote of 11-8 by the committee.
Oregon Recreation Enhancement Act (S. 440)
Led by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), this legislation would expand the Wild Rogue Wilderness in southwestern Oregon by nearly 60,000 acres. It also would establish two new recreation areas – the Rogue Canyon Recreation Area, adjacent to the Wild Rogue Wilderness, and the Molalla Recreation Area in northwestern Oregon – conserving more than 128,000 acres of public lands and waters that would maintain hunting access.
Additionally, the bill would solidify the conservation of more than 100,000 acres of public lands near the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area by permanently extending current protections from mining granted under the 20-year Southwestern Oregon Mineral Withdrawal. That mineral withdrawal began five years ago, in 2018. These designations would ensure healthy headwaters that are critical for Chinook and coho salmon, steelhead, and big game species such as Roosevelt elk and black-tailed deer. This bill received a vote of 12-7 by the committee.
Cerro de la Olla Wilderness Establishment Act (S.593)
This legislation led by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) would designate 13,000 acres of wilderness in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument while maintaining current access routes used by sportsmen and women as well as other outdoor recreators.
A unique caldera in northern New Mexico, this landscape is an important winter range and migratory corridor for elk and provides habitat for other game species such as antelope, mule deer, mountain lions and black bears. Designating this wilderness would build on previous protections for the region – the national monument was established in 2013 and nearly 22,000 acres of wilderness were designated through the Dingell Act in 2019. This bill was passed by voice vote. A companion to this bill in the House of Representatives is led by Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-NM).
M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act (S. 776)
This legislation led by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) would protect 446 miles of waterways throughout the Gila River watershed as a part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
Despite being one of the last free-flowing river systems in this region of the United States, the Gila is threatened by diversion and dam proposals. One of New Mexico’s revered native trout species, the threatened Gila trout, relies on critical habitat provided by the watershed. Multiple use of public lands would continue while protecting these irreplaceable waterways. This bill received a vote of 11-8 by the committee. A companion to this bill in the House of Representatives is led by Rep. Gabe Vasquez (D-NM).
Ruby Mountains Protection Act (S. 706)
Led by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), this legislation would withdraw more than 300,000 acres of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest and the nearly 40,000-acre Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge from oil and gas development. Doing so would stop speculative leasing and potential habitat fragmentation while still allowing for multiple use of the landscape.
The Ruby Mountains in northeastern Nevada are immensely valuable to hunters by providing a critical migratory corridor for the largest mule deer herd in the state and habitat for the imperiled greater sage-grouse. The area’s waters are also highly sought after by anglers in pursuit of Lahontan cutthroat trout. This bill received a vote of 12-7 by the committee. A bill in the House of Representatives that includes this language is led by Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV).
Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument Expansion Act (S. 683)
This legislation led by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA) would expand the existing Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument in northern California through the addition of nearly 4,000 acres of public land.
This landscape provides important habitat for game species including black-tailed deer, wild turkey, black bears and huntable herds of wild tule elk. The designation of the national monument in 2015 provided an excellent precedent for how to effectively conserve public land without altering recreational opportunities for hunting and angling. This bill was passed by voice vote. Its companion in the House of Representatives is led by Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA).
“Cottonwood fix” (S. 1540)
This legislation led by Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) would address the delays in forest management and habitat stewardship projects created by the Cottonwood Environmental Law Center v. United States Forest Service decision, delivered in 2015. This decision has resulted in costly duplicative re-consultation at the programmatic level for management plans across multiple jurisdictions. Consequently, an increasing number of restoration and wildlife habitat enhancement projects have been negatively impacted in addition to compromising wildfire fuels reduction efforts.
Bipartisan support for a solution to the Cottonwood decision has persisted through both the Obama administration, which petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the case, and the Trump administration, which initiated a rulemaking process to address the issue. A legislative solution is necessary to effectively solve the threats posed by Cottonwood and implement a permanent solution that enables continued investments in restoration and stewardship activities. This bill was passed by voice vote. A companion to this bill in the House of Representatives is led by Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-MT) and was passed by the House Natural Resources Committee 22-17 on the same day.
BHA will continue to advocate for these important pieces of legislation – and we’re pushing the full Senate to advance them and the House of Representatives to consider them, as well. An efficient approach is paramount here, and so we are encouraging Congress to consider advancing the bills as a package, one that already has the support of sportsmen and women, outdoor recreators, and the environmental community.