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.
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.
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.
Presidential Candidates Should Make Energy and Public Lands in the West a Priority
“Sportsmen and women understand that not every president can be as passionate an outdoorsman as Theodore Roosevelt. We do expect, however, that candidates for president understand the importance of keeping public lands in public hands while also acting on the need to balance energy development with abundant fish and wildlife populations, clean air and water, and recreational opportunities that include hunting and fishing. Both candidates would do well to listen to sportsmen and women.”
By Jason Schratwieser, Conservation Director, International Game Fish Association
It’s been a long, slow road, but the Billfish Conservation Act of 2011 has been signed into law by the president. The new law prohibits the importation of marlin, sailfish and spearfish in the continental United States. It represents the culmination of nearly four years of sweat equity overcoming hurdles, roadblocks and naysayers.
The process began from concerns raised from members of the International Game Fish Association, a TRCP partner group, about the large quantities of marlin and sailfish that were being commercially harvested in Central America. For some time, IGFA also had periodically sent letters of opposition to restaurants and grocery stores known to serve or carry marlin and sailfish. However we didn’t really know how big the problem was until went looking.
In 2007 IGFA commissioned a report to investigate the global billfish market. We wanted to find out which countries were harvesting, exporting and importing the most billfish. What we found shocked us. With an average of 2.7 million pounds each year, the U.S. was squarely identified as the world’s biggest importer of billfish.
At that point it became clear that a reactive approach of writing letters to businesses selling billfish was not the answer. To tackle the problem IGFA partnered with the National Coalition for Marine Conservation to develop a proactive campaign to educate the American populace as to what billfish are, their imperiled status and their importance to ocean ecosystems.
The Take Marlin off the Menu campaign was successful in that several very prominent restaurants, grocery stores and even celebrity chefs decided to go “marlin free.” Interactive media polling also showed that the campaign was making an impact in consumers’ perceptions about importing, selling and consuming billfish. Still, we knew the only way we could get rid of America’s dubious distinction was to seek legislation that would end these practices outright.
In 2010 we were successful in introducing legislation in Congress that would ban the commercial harvest, sale and importation of billfish in the U.S. Our billfish report found that annual U.S. billfish market revenues (including harvest and sale from Hawaii) totaled a measly .07 percent of the entire U.S. commercial fishing industry. Nevertheless, Hawaii proved to be an unsurpassable obstacle in the bill’s progress.
By the time the next congressional session convened, we had a new strategy. In order to avoid the ire of commercial fishing interests in Hawaii, we created a carve-out that would exclude Hawaii and the Pacific Insular Territories. Billfish no longer would be able to be imported into the continental U.S., but Hawaii still would be able to harvest and sell billfish commercially. While not our ideal strategy, the strategy allowed us to reach our primary objective: ending the reign of the U.S. as the world’s largest importer of billfish. With the leadership of Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana and Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, the Billfish Conservation Act of 2011 was introduced in the 112th Congress.
We felt that closing the U.S. to billfish imports would do two things: (1) close a sizeable piece of the international billfish market and (2) position the U.S. to take a more aggressive approach to international billfish management and conservation. The Billfish Conservation Act already is making waves around the world, with groups in other countries considering similar measures.
I suppose the old adage “change is slow” is true. But, it sure is sweet when it finally happens.
This determination effectively ends all legal uncertainty for the 2001 roadless rule and assures its permanence into the foreseeable future.
Areas managed under the roadless rule include renowned big-game hunting destinations such as the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming, the Elkhorn Mountains in Montana and the Warner Range of Oregon and California.
These large blocks of undeveloped public lands provide the habitat security necessary for wildlife managers to provide substantial public hunting opportunities for game such as mule deer and elk.
The great thing about the roadless rule is that it represents a balanced and reasonable approach for the management of high value, undeveloped public lands. The rule conserves roadless areas while providing management allowances to protect communities from wildfire, restore habitat and ecosystems and even develop oil and gas, as long as this development is done in ways that maintain the areas’ backcountry values.
With big-game hunting seasons commencing across the country, sportsmen can celebrate by grabbing our gear and setting out in pursuit of deer, elk and other critters on America’s national forest lands. This Supreme Court decision represents an unqualified victory for our community.
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.
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.
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.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
WHAT WILL FEWER HUNTERS MEAN FOR CONSERVATION?
The precipitous drop in hunter participation should be a call to action for all sportsmen and women, because it will have a significant ripple effect on key conservation funding models.