Slate of Public Lands Bills and Nominee Considered in Senate Committee

A long-awaited markup of public lands legislation by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee was held on Thursday, July 21. Among a total of more than three dozen bills were eight pieces of legislation supported by Backcountry Hunters & Anglers as well as the nomination of Laura Daniel-Davis as an assistant interior secretary. Not often does a lineup of important policy items all arise in one long hearing. Here's a breakdown of what's relevant for sportsmen and women and why.

Laura Daniel-Davis

BHA supports Laura Daniel-Davis's nomination to the Department of the Interior as assistant secretary - land and minerals management. Daniel-Davis’s career in the public and nonprofit sectors spans more than two decades. Currently she serves as a principal deputy assistant secretary for DOI. Previously she was chief of staff to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. 

In a unique situation, this is the second time Daniel-Davis has came before the committee for a vote. As before, her nomination received a 10-10 party line vote. Even without a favorable report from the committee, Daniel-Davis's nomination can be sent over to the full Senate for consideration. BHA urges a swift confirmation vote by the chamber to finally fill this position more than 18 months into this Administration.

Here's what BHA President and CEO Land Tawney had to say about Daniel-Davis's nomination:

“Laura brings critical expertise in public policy and public lands management to the Interior Department. As an accomplished policy professional serving two previous presidential administrations, she has the leadership experience that will bring a strong conservation vision to Interior at a crucial time – and a deep appreciation for the natural resource opportunities and challenges she will face in this role."

The Bills

The following bills supported by BHA received a vote by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, determining whether they advance to the full Senate. Favorably reported legislation will be sent to the full Senate for further consideration. Those bills that had a tied vote will be held by the committee; leaving their future path this Congress uncertain.

  • Grand Canyon Protection Act S. 387 - Sen. Sinema (D-AZ): In 2012, the Department of Interior instituted a 20-year mineral moratorium on mining and mineral leasing on 1 million acres of federal lands surrounding the Grand Canyon. Uranium mining in the landscape adjacent to the Grand Canyon threatens to irreparably harm valuable water resources and the fish and wildlife that rely on this habitat. During President Theodore Roosevelt's visit to this landscape more than a century ago he recognized that it was too unique to spoil. This legislation would permanently withdraw those same acres from mining and mineral leasing. By building upon the Department of the Interior’s existing mineral withdrawal, it would protect the water resources of the Colorado River and numerous fish and wildlife species while still allowing for the multiple-use of these public lands. During the committee meeting the bill received a gridlocked vote of 10-10.

  • Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act S. 1493 - Sen. Tester (D-MT): Supported by 83% of Montanans, this legislation is the result of more than a decade of collaboration between a variety of stakeholder groups in Montana, including sportsmen and women. The Blackfoot Clearwater ecosystem supports healthy fish and wildlife populations, a robust timber industry and a broad swath of rural communities throughout the watershed. You can listen to Sen. Tester talk about his bill on the BHA Podcast & Blast. Nearly 80,000 acres would be designated as wilderness, and 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, new snowmobiling opportunities would be provided in the proposed Otatsy Recreation Management Area while the Spread Mountain Recreation Management Area would be created to preserve mountain biking opportunities. These lands deserve strong protections and enhanced management to preserve the benefits they provide to all stakeholders. During the committee meeting the bill received a gridlocked vote of 10-10. Sen. Daines (R-MT) is unwilling to move the bill forward without the additional, unrelated release of wilderness study areas in Montana.

  • Smith River National Recreation Area Expansion Act S. 1538 - Sen. Merkley (D-OR): The Smith River remains one of the largest undammed river systems in the United States, and this watershed is one of the last remaining salmon strongholds on the Pacific Coast. Protecting cold, clear, free flowing water for these native fish is necessary to recover and restore their populations. This legislation would expand the existing Smith River National Recreation Area by 58,000 acres, protecting critically important rivers, streams and lands adjacent to the North Fork Smith River watershed and in turn benefiting fish and wildlife habitat as well as the local recreation economy. The bill would also designate 74 miles of waterways as components of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The committee advanced this legislation with a favorable report through vote of 11-9. You can read more about the importance of the Smith River in this past Backcountry Journal article

  • “Cottonwood” Legislative Fix S. 2561 - Sen. Daines (R-MT): Delivered in 2015, the Cottonwood Environmental Law Center v. United States Forest Service (Cottonwood) decision has resulted in costly duplicative consultation at the programmatic level for land management and forest management plans. In turn this has had serious negative impacts for proposed wildlife habitat enhancement and wildfire fuels reduction projects. Bipartisan support for a solution has persisted through both the Obama administration, which petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the case, and the Trump administration, which initiated a rule-making process to address the issue. After a 16-4 vote to amend the bill, the committee held a voice vote to favorably report this legislation. It clear that a legislative solution is necessary to address the costly and duplicative delays in forest management projects, which would be provided by this legislation. 

  • Root and Stem Project Authorization Act S. 3046 - Sen. Daines (R-MT): By empowering collaboratives and public-private partnerships, this legislation would allow landscape-scale forest restoration projects to be conducted through more efficient and effective forest management. This would be done by codifying the authority used by the Forest Service in the Coleville National Forest for the “A to Z” project. Doing so would help to encourage public and private partners to invest in active forest management at the scale and pace that is necessary. Coordination with the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and state and local stakeholders would improve facilitation of stewardship projects. The committee held a unanimous voice vote to favorably report this legislation. 

  • M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act S. 3129 - Sen. Heinrich (D-NM): The Greater Gila watershed provides the largest remaining free-flowing river network in the southwestern United States. Within that watershed is the nation’s first designated wilderness area, the Gila Wilderness. This legislation would protect a total of 446 miles of rivers and streams in the Gila River system through the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The threatened Gila trout, one of New Mexico’s revered native trout species, relies on critical habitat provided by the watershed. This legislation allows for the multiple-use of these public lands while ensuring protections for irreplaceable fish and wildlife habitat. The committee advanced this legislation with a favorable report through vote of 11-9. 

  • Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument Expansion Act S. 4080 - Sen. Padilla (D-CA): The creation of Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument in 2015 provided an example of conservation that protected habitat and preserved access for hunters and anglers and as such was supported by BHA. This legislation would expand the national monument through the transfer of 3,925 acres of adjacent Bureau of Land Management-administered public lands. This would provide an excellent precedent for how to effectively conserve public land without altering recreational opportunities for hunting and angling, which are a critical component of conservation funding and policy. The legislation also directs the Forest Service and BLM to finalize a management plan, which has been incomplete since 2015. You can read more about BHA's perspective on national monuments in this report along with a highlight of Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument. The committee held a unanimous voice vote to favorably report this legislation.

  • Upper Colorado and San Juan River Basins Recovery Act H.R. 5001 - Rep. Neguse (D-CO): This legislation would achieve greater certainty for water users in the Upper Colorado River basin in addition to strengthening commitments to the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program and ensuring continuity for the recovery of critical fisheries and habitat conservation efforts. In the Upper Colorado River Basin healthy fisheries, agricultural production and all water users rely on the future of conservation programs. The committee held a unanimous voice vote to favorably report this legislation. H.R 5001 passed the House of Representatives overwhelmingly in March, by a margin of 397-27. The Senate must now see this legislation across the finish line.

Many of these are bills with special regional importance, but all seek to protect, enhance or better manage our public lands and waters. As a strong proponent of good stewardship of public lands and waters, BHA was excited to see the committee advance S. 1538, S. 2561, S. 3046, S. 3129, S. 4080 and H.R. 5001; however, incredibly disappointed that both S. 387 and S. 1493 were blocked from being reported to the full Senate.

About Kaden McArthur

A western hunter and angler at heart, my passion for wild places and wildlife brought me to Washington, DC to work on conservation policy.