Glassing The Hill: May 18 – 22

The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress

The Senate is in session from Monday through Friday. The House is in session from Tuesday through Thursday.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

You might say that it’s rush hour for members of Congress looking to fund the highway bill. Both the House and Senate will be scrambling to find common ground on stopgap funding levels for an extension to the existing highway bill set to expire on May 31. This process will reimburse the Highway Trust Fund, the funding source for most federal transportation projects, but this legislation has also been a critical funding source for federal conservation programs since 1992. It pays for programs vital to the establishment of historic easements, native habitat and wetland mitigation areas, scenic byways, and recreational trails. As such, it is imperative that a long-term funding solution be established in the coming months or, at the very least, that a short-term solution be implemented to ensure that vital conservation programs do not run out of funding.

In the current climate, where smaller pieces of legislation are almost always passed as amendments to larger “must-pass” legislative packages, the highway bill will also present a prime opportunity to lawmakers who need a vehicle for their priorities.

Republicans in the House lobbied for implementing a 7-month funding plan, but quickly realized that the $10 billion needed to do so was unavailable. They will likely acquiesce to Democrats who’d been pushing for a 2-month extension. With Memorial Day recess on the horizon, lawmakers are running out of road.

Water Rule Under Fire

The controversial clean water rule, which would clarify Clean Water Act protections over wetlands and headwater streams, will come under scrutiny this week at two back-to-back Senate hearings. Republicans, who feel the rule is a gross expansion of government and EPA authority, will use these hearings to draw Democrat support for their opposition.

The first hearing, held by the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife will center on S. 1140, which was introduced by Senators John Barrasso (R-WY) and Joe Connelly (D-IN) and has become the central legislative means of opposing the clean water rule. Details on this hearing can be found here. Details on an oversight hearing on Scientific Advisory Panels and Processes at the EPA can be found here.

Conservationists and sportsmen argue that the rulemaking process conducted by the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was thorough and inclusive, and attempts to block a rule that has not been published yet would be premature. More than one million comments were read and considered during the rulemaking process, and the publication of the final rule will not mark the end of the amendment process.

These two hearings come at a sensitive time, with Senate appropriators set to mark up their energy and water spending bill this week. It is likely that the clean water rule will be discussed, if not heatedly debated, during that amendment process. Last year, attempts to force a vote on amendments to the rule disrupted the entire discussion.

Package Deal

A joint hearing will take place on Wednesday as the House Natural Resources Subcommittees on Federal Lands and Water, Power, and Oceans will look at the legislative “sportsmen’s package,” the purpose of which is to enhance hunting, fishing, and target shooting opportunities on federal lands and waters. Details of the package can be found here. Land Tawney, the Executive Director of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, will be the only witness.

For the past two years, a bipartisan sportsmen’s package failed in the Senate as discussions on the Senate floor were politicized and became focused on gun rights. The measure passed through the House in 2014, however, and this year’s draft bill features the same language.

The hearing is Wednesday. Additional details can be found here.

Sage Grouse in the House

Conservationists will testify on sage-grouse management authority before the House Natural Resources Committee tomorrow. The hearing will examine the methods and practices employed by states to manage greater sage grouse populations. The implications of dwindling sage-grouse populations could have profound impacts on the economies of the Western states if the birds are listed under the Endangered Species Act in September.

Epic collaboration among federal land managers, state agencies, and local stakeholders is resulting in conservation plans to ensure the sustainability of the species. These tactics will likely be a central part of tomorrow’s discussions, as the panel considers delaying the listing decision and/or shifting management responsibility to the states. Discussions will likely deal with concerns that the federal government is less-equipped to protect the species than the state governments.

Among those testifying is Ed Arnett, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Senior Scientist, whose unparalleled experience on this issue will undoubtedly aid in the decision-making process.

Details of the hearing can be found here.

This Week in Full:

Tuesday, May 19

House Hearing on state management of greater sage grouse

Natural Resources

House Meeting to set rules on research, fisheries bills (Not announced***)

Rules

Senate Hearing on S. 1140, The Federal Water Quality Protection Act

Environment & Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife

Senate Hearing on the impact of the Waters of the U.S. rule on small businesses

Small Business and Entrepreneurship

Senate Markup of energy and water spending bill

Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water

Wednesday, May 20

House Hearing on legislation to improve sporting opportunities on federal lands and waters

Natural Resources subcommittees on Federal Lands and Water, Power and Oceans

House Hearing on OSMRE’s stream protection rule

Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations

Senate Hearing on EPA Science Advisory Board reform bill

Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management and Regulatory Oversight

Senate Markup of fisheries bills (Not announced***)

Commerce, Science and Transportation

Thursday, May 21

Senate Hearing on public lands bills

Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining

Playing politics with sportsmen

There is a great frustration in working hard on something for months and having it come up just short of success.

On days like this one, hours after the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act failed on the Senate floor, I think of other, more obviously rewarding lines of work. Chesapeake Bay waterfowl hunting guide, perhaps?

Ten years ago, when I came to Washington, D.C., seeking to create a career that combined my loves of politics and hunting, this was still a town where things could get done, a town where you could still have fun at work. Things have changed. This is now a town sick with partisanship, where even good ideas often can count on inglorious defeat.

The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2014, or S. 2363, was the result of a lot of work by Sens. Kay Hagan (D-NC) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) over the course of more than a year. After learning lessons from an unsuccessful attempt to pass a sportsmen’s legislative package late in 2012, Hagan and Murkowski assembled a package that addressed many sportsmen’s priorities but avoided some of the more controversial measures from 2012. As a result, they achieved something almost unheard of in Washington: They crafted a bill that had virtually no credible opposition.

S. 2363 has 46 cosponsors, split almost evenly among Republicans and Democrats. Conservatives and progressives cosponsored the legislation, realizing the economic and political importance of America’s hunters and anglers. But in Washington, even the best made plans are subject to crashing on the rocks of short-sighted partisanship.

The probable end of the Sportsmen’s Act of 2014 resulted not from the content of the legislation, and it certainly should not be taken as a measure of the value of sportsmen. No, the end of S.2363 came about because many in the Senate would rather haggle for political victories than pass meaningful legislation with strong public support. Amendments that had nothing to do with the bill’s original intent were offered by both sides of the aisle, and in a gridlocked Senate, the process predictably broke down amidst calls of foul play and obstruction from the leaders of both parties.

Floor time in the United States Senate is not a trifling thing. Literally thousands of pieces of legislation and the champions who support those bills vie for a shot at the Senate floor. But in today’s Washington, getting floor time is no guarantee of safe passage; indeed, advancing a bill to the Senate floor doesn’t even guarantee an up or down vote on the legislation. But those of us who advocate on behalf of America’s hunters and anglers will dust ourselves off this morning, survey the playing field in the days, weeks, and months ahead, and chart a course forward. Working with our congressional champions and our partners – and with the support of sportsmen like you – we pledge to get this legislation over the finish line. A slim possibility for the bill’s advancement exists before the 113th Congress ends. And the prospect of a new version of the bill being introduced in the future is not outside the realm of possibility. Better late than never.

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.