Congressional Bickering Leaves Sportsmen in the Lurch

We called the Sportsmen’s Act easy to love for a reason. Until yesterday it appeared that a large majority of lawmakers in Congress agreed.

The bill recognizes the broad economic and social impacts of conservation, improves access for sportsmen and supports habitat conservation. It integrates 17 separate bills, including the Making Public Lands Public Access Act, the Permanent Electronic Duck Stamp Act and the Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act. It also would reauthorize the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Yet the Sportsmen’s Act failed to garner enough support from Senators last night to pass a procedural vote, and thus its prospects of success remain uncertain at best.

The Sportsmen’s Act failed to garner enough support to pass a procedural vote and thus its prospects of success remain uncertain at best. Photo by Dusan Smetana.

Until yesterday’s Senate vote, the Sportsmen’s Act had passed all legislative hurdles with widespread support from both political parties – a rarity in such a divisive political environment. But somehow, even after Americans expressed strong distaste for partisan politics, dysfunctional gridlock returned to Congress.

With their backs up against the so-called fiscal cliff, elected officials from both sides of the aisle locked antlers again. American sportsmen are paying the price.

Hunters and anglers are experiencing the fallout from congressional inaction as access dwindles, development diminishes opportunities for sportsmen and funding for conservation disappears.

More than 91 million U.S. residents fished, hunted or wildlife watched in 2011 – that is more 25 percent of the U.S. population. From big-game hunters in Wyoming to carp fishermen in suburban lakes and everyone in between, we are a force to be reckoned with. And we vote.

A diverse alliance of powerful groups ranging from the National Rifle Association to The Nature Conservancy has joined forces in support of the Sportsmen’s Act. Together, in the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt, we will continue to stand up for sportsmen.

The TRCP and our partners are working with congressional leaders and members of the sporting community to form partnerships on the Hill and in the field that will benefit our sporting traditions for current and future generations.

In the coming days and weeks we will be asking for your voice in this fight. Be ready.

With Economics, Access and Conservation, Sportsmen’s Act is Easy to Love

Early Saturday morning, the U.S. Senate voted to advance the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 – a package of more than 20 measures that promote public hunting and fishing access, habitat conservation and strongly funded resource management—toward final action when Congress returns to session after the November elections. To describe the bill, authored by Montana Sen. Jon Tester and supported by a bipartisan coalition of senators, as friendly to public hunting, fishing and conservation is an understatement.  The act promotes values central to the TRCP and other hunting and fishing organizations vision of guaranteeing every American a place to hunt and fish.

You may have heard grumblings about how this bill is bad—mostly from those who oppose the current law, which would be reaffirmed by the bill – that the Environmental Protection Agency cannot regulate lead ammunition and fishing tackle. Instead, the bill leaves those decisions to state fish and game agencies and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which currently regulate ammo and tackle.

Driftboat by Dusan Smetana

The Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 has a broad economic and social impact, improves access and supports habitat conservation. Photo by Dusan Smetana.

But the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 offers a lot more to like than criticize. And in a Congress marked by partisan conflict and divisiveness, the fact that a bill aimed at expanding public access for recreational opportunities – including hunting and fishing – passed by such a wide margin confirms the importance of these activities to our nation’s heritage and our economy.

Why is the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 important?

It has broad economic and social impacts. Sportsmen and -women have a long history of promoting species and public lands conservation. This bill embraces that legacy. A national survey undertaken in 2011 found that more than 90 million Americans participate in hunting, fishing and wildlife watching. Hunters and anglers alone account for close to $100 billion in annual economic activity and support more than 900,000 sustainable U.S. jobs.

It improves access. Sportsmen cite the loss of access as the No. 1 reason they quit hunting or fishing. This bill reauthorizes the Federal Lands Transaction Facilitation Act, which uses a “land for land” approach to improve access. It also sets aside 1.5 percent from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to specifically address access issues by purchasing in-holdings on existing public lands and securing easements to access-restricted acreage.

It supports habitat conservation. Sportsmen and -women are significant financial contributors to habitat conservation. The bill continues other critical habitat investment programs that have expired, including the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, Partners for Fish and Wildlife, the work of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act. In total, these programs leverage $4 of private investment for each dollar from the program.

After the elections, we’ll reach out to you with an opportunity to contact your elected officials in the U.S. House and Senate to complete work on the Sportsmen’s Act. In the meantime, the Senate’s leadership deserve a “thank you” from all sportsmen.