This morning, our president Whit Fosburgh testified on behalf of S. 556, The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015, to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee. You can read his oral testimony to the committee below and the link to the archived webcast follows:
My name is Whit Fosburgh, and I am the President and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, a coalition of more than 40 national hunting, fishing and conservation groups dedicated to guaranteeing that all Americans have quality places to hunt and fish.
First, I want to thank the committee for the invitation to testify today, and especially Chairwoman Murkowski and Senator Heinrich, for introducing S. 556, The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015, and bringing it before the committee. When combined with the companion bill that will make its way through the Environment Committee, the Sportsmen’s Act will make a direct and lasting contribution to hunting, fishing and conservation in America.
Approximately 40 million Americans hunt and fish every year. Together, hunters and anglers annually spend more than $90 billion to pursue their passions. They are a key part of the $646 billion outdoor recreation economy, and through excise taxes, license fees, permits and stamps, and voluntary contributions of money and labor, sportsmen have, for more than 75 years, paid their way. As a result, American fish and wildlife management is the envy of the world.
But federal policy and funding are key to maintaining the North American Model of Fish and Wildlife Conservation and helping people of all walks of life get afield.
Hunters and anglers need two things to practice their sports: access and opportunity. They need places to go to hunt and fish, and when they get there, they need healthy populations of fish and game.
S. 556 is important in both regards.
Section 101 reiterates that our public lands are opening for hunting, fishing and recreational shooting unless they are specifically closed, and it establishes a public process should it makes sense to close certain areas. This is consistent with the way our public lands have been managed since the days of Theodore Roosevelt, but it provides our land managers with added clarity in this era of competing demands on our public lands.
Sections 201 and 202 directly address the issue of decreasing access to our public lands. According to various studies, lack of access is one of the most often cited reasons why people stop hunting and fishing. Part of this is due to non-stop urban and suburban sprawl, where farms and forests turn into malls and condos.
Another part of this is fewer private landowners who allow public access. The 2014 Farm Bill, with its Open Fields provision, was an important step toward providing incentives to private landowners to allow hunting, fishing and/or access on their lands.
But in the West, more than 70 percent of hunters hunt on public lands. Nationally, about half of all hunters hunt some or all of the time on public lands. But even those lands are getting harder and harder to access.
In the old days, you could ask most landowners to cross their lands to access adjoining public lands. But as ownership patterns change, such access becomes more difficult. Today, it is estimated that more than 30 million acres of public lands are largely inaccessible to the public.
Senator Heinrich’s HUNT Act (Section 202) seeks to identify those landlocked public lands and to plan ways in which access to those lands might be improved.
Complementary to the HUNT Act is Section 201, Making Public Lands Public, which would direct that a small percentage of the Land and Water Conservation Fund target projects that expand access to our public lands.
For more than 50 years, LWCF has been an incredibly important program for conserving habitat and providing sportsmen’s access, and Section 201 would help ensure that this legacy of access will continue. I want to specifically note that my colleague on the panel, Jeff Crane, has been pushing for Making Public Lands Public for many years, and to thank him for his persistence.
I would also request that a copy of the report, endorsed by more than 20 organizations, entitled The Land and Water Conservation Fund and America’s sportsmen and women: A 50-year legacy of increased access and improved habitat, be submitted for the hearing record.
I should also note that the authorization for the LWCF expires later this year, and that 1.5 percent of nothing is nothing. We look forward to working with the chairwoman and the committee to make sure that LWCF is reauthorized and fully funded.
The final provision that I want to discuss is Section 203, the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act. Before its expiration in 2011, FLTFA had leveraged strategic federal land sales to fund 39 priority land conservation projects across the American West, including many of which expanded sportsmen’s access to world class hunting and fishing opportunities. In total, more than 27,000 acres of excess properties were sold to purchase more than 18,000 acres of high priority fish and wildlife, recreation and/or scenic lands.
Like Making Public Lands Public, FLTFA achieves real, on-the-ground conservation goals, without costing the American taxpayer.
The companion bill to S.556 that the Environment Committee will consider includes several other key provisions for habitat and access, including reauthorization of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and, I hope, the National Fish Habitat Conservation Partnership Act.
In closing, I want to thank the Committee for considering the Bipartisan Sportsmen Act of 2015. I also want to make the plea that committee members and the whole Senate continue to set aside partisan politics on behalf of America’s sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts. Conservation has, for more than a century, been non-partisan. But as we have seen in the last two Congresses, similarly meritorious sportsmen’s acts died as the desire to score political points overrode the needs of America’s sportsmen.
I think I speak for all 40+ of our partner groups when I say that we stand ready to work with you and your colleagues to make sure that this doesn’t not happen again, and to pass this critical legislation that will help ensure that all Americans have quality places to hunt and fish now and for generations to come.