President Signs Lands Bill That Protects Hunting Access

President Signs Lands Bill That Protects Hunting Access

Photo credit: Bob Wick, Bureau of Land Management

The mammoth Senate Bill S.47, sponsored by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), passed in both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives in February and was signed into law by President Donald J. Trump yesterday. Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior David Bernhardt applauded the President. “President Trump knows that federal lands are meant to provide both peace and prosperity for the American people, and signing this bill allows us to continue managing public lands in a balanced way.” The bill, also known as the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act, contains nine titles and 245 sections. Within those titles and sections is language lifted from the Recreational Fishing and Hunting Heritage Opportunities Act that passed the House in three previous Congresses as part of a package of sportsmen’s bills, but never made it through the Senate.

All of the provisions in S.47 related to hunting, fishing and recreational shooting (HFRS) were initiated by and/or developed by the National Rifle Association in concert with several other non-government organizations (NGOs) nearly eight years ago. Thus, the passage of S. 47 was a victory in getting sportsmen’s access language and other provisions of importance to hunters—whose dollars fund wildlife conservation—across the Congressional finish line. The NRA is pleased to report that these provisions include:

  • Incorporating “Making Public Lands Public” into the section of S. 47 that permanently reauthorizes the Land and Conservation Fund (LWCF). It sets aside 3 percent of LWCF-appropriated funds or $15 million annually—whichever is greater—for projects that will open or improve access for HFRS and other outdoor recreational activities. The authorized LWCF funding level is $900 million to be split 40 percent for state, 40 percent for federal and 20 percent for other projects including deferred maintenance needs.
  • Declaring it is national policy that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) are to facilitate the expansion and enhancement of HFRS.
  • Declaring it is national policy that the BLM and USFS conserve and enhance the management of game species and their habitat, including through hunting and fishing, in concert with state fish and game laws.
  • Declaring it is national policy that the BLM and USFS consider HFRS opportunities as part of federal land, resource and travel management plans.
  • Codifying BLM and USFS policy that the lands they manage are open unless specifically closed to HFRS for reasons of public safety, administration or compliance with applicable laws. (This means that the agencies do not have to justify keeping the lands they manage open to HFRS.)
  • Mandating that closure of federal lands to HFRS must be for the smallest area for the least amount of time to satisfy public safety, administration or compliance with applicable laws.
  • Specifying additional requirements for public notice and comment, including notice to the NGO signatories of the Federal Lands Hunting and Shooting Sports Memorandum of Understanding Roundtable.
  • Ensuring that a decision to close an area to HSRS must explain how issues could not be resolved and that closure is the only answer.
  • Requiring that an annual report of land closures to HFRS be submitted to the Congress and the public.
  • Requiring the development of lists prioritizing areas where there is no public access—or access is restricted on BLM, USFS, National Park Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands that are open to HFRS and other recreational activities—and developing strategies for providing access.
  • Codifying the use of qualified volunteers (hunters) in wildlife management projects on lands within the National Park System.

Shortfalls of S.47
Despite the hard work of the NRA and like-minded organizations over the past eight years and all of the above provisions in S.47, it fell short of the sportsmen’s package of bills previously passed by the House. Language addressing past anti-hunting court rulings was not included in addition to other NRA-backed provisions. NRA-ILA will continue to work with link-minded organizations, members of Congress, and this Administration on behalf of sportsmen to achieve these goals.

About the Author: Susan Recce, NRA-ILA Director of Conservation, Wildlife and Natural Resources, has spent four decades fighting for sportsmen’s access to public lands. In recognition of her dedication to American sportsmen, Recce has received numerous awards, including Outdoor Life’s 2016 Open Country Award honoring esteemed individuals and groups working to ensure sportsmen maintain access to places to hunt, fish and recreationally shoot.

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