Thursday, June 7, 2012

Unlocking the Gates



We've all had it happen. There’s a new gate on the old county road you and your dad used to bump along down looking for deer. Or, you look over the next rise at a piece of public land in the tens of thousands of acres, but you can’t get to it because there’s a 20 yard strip of private land keeping you off the public ground. We've all lost those easy to reach places where we could shoot on public lands. Whether it’s folks leaving their 78 Datsun or the burnt up old Maytag, or even worse; a subdivision moves in, and suddenly the new neighbors don’t like the sound of guns going off right next to their two story Colonial.

There’s a crisis in America when it comes to issues that hunters and anglers care about.  There are very real, and very potent threats to how we access public lands, and how we manage the habitat that our wildlife needs to thrive. Congress is mostly broken, and as we saw in the last legislative cycle, the MT state legislature is hell bent for destroying our opportunity and ability to reasonably manage wildlife. Partisan politics has wormed its way into our heritage. People have forgotten that hunting and angling values aren’t blue or red; they’re optifade, jungle stripe and a host of other blends of colors.
But that changed today.

Folks in Montana have been screaming at our delegation for years to get something done that helps hunters and anglers. O it in a non-partisan fashion, and make sure it’s not full of sill, ideologically driven foolishness.

The Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 has 19 separate provisions, including:




  • The Hunting, Fishing and Recreational Shooting Protection Act: 
  • This section specifically excludes ammo and fishing tackle from the Toxic Substances Control Act, leaving decisions about tackle to State Fish and Game Agencies and the Fish and Wildlife Service, who currently regulate ammo and tackle.  The EPA has denied petitions to regulate tackle and ammo under TSCA in 1994 and again in 2011.  This codifies that the EPA does not have the ability to regulate tackle.  This includes a savings clause for local, state and other federal regulations 
  • Making Public Lands Public:   
  • This section requires that the 1.5% of annual LWCF funding is made available to secure, through rights-of-way, or the acquisition of lands, or interests from willing sellers, recreational public access to existing federal public lands that have significantly restricted access to hunting, fishing, and other recreational purposes.  Access is the number one issue for Sportsmen.  Finding places to recreate and the loss of access are the top reason sportsmen stop hunting and fishing.  In an agency report to Congress (in 2003) found 35 million acres of public land had inadequate access.
  • Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act: 
  • This section amends the Pittman-Robertson Act by adjusting the funding limitations.  This allows states more funds available for a longer period of time for the creation and maintenance of shooting ranges.  The bill encourages federal land agencies to cooperate with state and local authorities to maintain shooting ranges and limits liability for these agencey.
  •  The Hunting, Fishing and Recreational Shooting Protection Act:  This section specifically excludes ammo and fishing tackle from the Toxic Substances Control Act, leaving decisions about tackle to State Fish and Game Agencies and the Fish and Wildlife Service, who currently regulate ammo and tackle.  The EPA has denied petitions to regulate tackle and ammo under TSCA in 1994 and again in 2011.  This codifies that the EPA does not have the ability to regulate tackle.  This includes a savings clause for local, state and other federal regulations.
  • North American Wetlands Conservation Act Reauthorization (NAWCA):
  • This section reauthorizes the North American Wetlands Conservation Act for another five years. NAWCA is a voluntary land-owner friendly initiative that uses incentives to provide valuable matching grants that leverage federal dollars to protect habitat that is critically important for migratory birds, such as ducks and other wildlife.  Over the last 20 years, NAWCA has completed over 2,000 conservation project to protect 26.5 million acres of habitat.  This voluntary program has over 4,500 partners and has leveraged nearly 3 dollars for every dollar spent by the federal government. 
  • Partners for Fish and Wildlife: 
  • This provides provision reauthorizes the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program through 2017.  This program works in a non-regulatory, cooperative fashion to help private landowners with habitat restoration on their property. This cost-share program focuses on improving wetland, riparian, in-stream, fish passage, sage-steppe, grassland and aquatic habitats that provide benefits to migratory birds, threatened or endangered species, and other sensitive and declining species.

Access and habitat conservation; That’s a damned fine pair to draw, just like neighboring Senators who put partisanship aside, and focus on the issues. This proposed legislation is just at the beginning of it’s track though. While most of the powerful groups representing hunters, anglers and recreational shooters are supporting the bill, there’s still the political games that have to be played to get anything passed in a Congress that would rather left good legislation die than adjust an intractable position.

It’s high time we get beyond the politics of “NO” and get on with doing the Business of the American people. Senator Thune apparently gets that, as does our own Senator Tester.

A tip of the old Stormy Kromer to those two Senators who stepped up to the plate, and made something good happen.  Hunting and angling issues should never be partisan. We’re pleased as punch to see this come out, and we will buy a round when it passes.

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