House Committee Passes Legislation to Improve Sportsmen’s Access
The House Committee on Natural Resources has passed the “Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act of 2015,” or SHARE Act (H.R. 2406), comprised of several provisions aimed at increasing opportunities for hunters, anglers, and recreational shooters. The legislation was introduced earlier this year by the bipartisan leadership of the House Sportsmen’s Caucus: Rep. Robert Wittman (R-Va.), Tim Walz (D-Minn.), Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), and Gene Green (D-Texas).
“At a time when lack of access is one of the greatest barriers for hunter and angler recruitment and retention, we’re anxious to see a comprehensive and bipartisan sportsmen’s package advance to the President’s desk. Today’s action by the Natural Resources Committee is an important first step in that process,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “It is critical to support improvements to public access, while also working to strengthen our investment in conservation—because access means nothing without healthy fish, wildlife, and habitat.”
When I was a young boy and my grandfather first introduced me to hunting, I didn’t have a clue what it took to create and maintain the amazing opportunities I was enjoying in the outdoors. But I developed a passion and connection to wildlife and America’s wild places that will last a lifetime. Fast forward 25 years and we are at a pivotal point in history: It has never been more important to stand up and protect what sportsmen and women know to be immensely valuable—
our public lands, fish and wildlife habitat, and access to great hunting and fishing. The challenge, though, is that a great portion of our population has never had the opportunity to connect with wildlife and nature the way we have. So, it is up to us to spread the message that, as Theodore Roosevelt said, “There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country.”
And the country may be primed to hear our message. Members of the locavore movement, creators of sustainability initiatives, and a generation of environmentally aware youth can and should stand with the conservation groups that have been working for years to ensure healthy ecosystems and balanced wildlife populations.
This opportunity is one of many reasons that we at SITKA Gear are excited to announce our Founding Membership in a brand new organization—One Percent for Conservation (OPC), which was created to support and encourage businesses to give back to conservation. By simply committing to give back one percent of sales each year, we believe we can make a difference. But we cannot do it alone. OPC is asking the industry to come together in this movement, because one percent from thousands of businesses adds up to a really big impact on the future of conservation.
You can help us by encouraging your favorite brands to contribute one percent. Any business owner that understands the value of conservation will probably listen. For more information, follow One Percent for Conservation on Facebook or visit the website.
And, because you are part of the community of sportsmen who give back to conservation by supporting the TRCP, SITKA Gear is giving you 40 percent off a special edition of our new Ballistic Vest. Purchase one before October 16, then get out in the field and give 110 percent on your next hunt knowing that you’re blazing a trail of conservation.
The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress.
The Senate will be in session Monday through Friday. The House will begin legislative business on Tuesday and wrap up on Friday.
Congress narrowly avoided a government shutdown last week by clearing a “clean” short-term continuing resolution which funds the government until December 11. (Read our thoughts on that.) The CR also repays the U.S. Forest Service $700 million in emergency funds for dollars that had been borrowed for fire suppression costs—that’s the first time Congress has repaid borrowed funds since 2009. The CR did not address a permanent fix for fire borrowing, nor did it reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which expired on October 1. Lawmakers are already working this week to reauthorize the program and maintain its connection to funding through offshore oil and gas royalties.
Outgoing Speaker John Boehner announced the election for Speaker of the House will be held on Thursday, October 8, with Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) the odds-on favorite to win. If McCarthy is elected, the race for Majority Leader is expected to be contentious and competitive. Before Boehner steps down from his post and resigns from Congress permanently, he will likely seek to work with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to consider a way forward on a multi-year bipartisan budget deal effective through the November 2016 elections, plus a long-term highway bill and a deal to raise the nation’s debt limit prior to the November 5 default deadline. The run-up to the end of the year promises to be exciting under the Capitol dome.
The Senate gaveled in today at 4 p.m. to consider the NDAA conference report, which we are glad to report does not contain any language that would derail greater sage grouse conservation efforts. On Tuesday, the House will begin consideration of Rep. Barton’s (R-TX) H.R. 702 that lifts the export ban on crude oil, Rep. Hill’s (R-AR) H.R. 3192 to regulate mortgage loans for homebuyers, and consider Rep. Young’s (R-AK) H.R. 538 that would reduce federal regulations on Indian lands.
What We’re Tracking
Access to public lands, to be discussed in a House Natural Resources Committee mark-up of Rep. Wittman’s (R-VA) H.R. 2406, the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act of 2015. Date of this mark-up hearing is TBD.
You may be ready to leave summer behind, but the events of the last few months will have a lasting impact on the way we protect clean water and wetlands. While we achieved a historic milestone for clean water protections and sportsmen’s access to healthy fish and waterfowl habitat, this victory has since been thrown into question by a number of court cases. Here’s what you need to know about where we stand.
The Clean Water Rule Takes Effect
First, the good news: On August 28, the final clean water rule announced back in May went into effect in 37 states and the District of Columbia. (We’ll get to the other 13 states in just a bit.) This means that most of the country now has greater regulatory certainty and more effective Clean Water Act protections for trout streams, salmon spawning grounds, and duck nesting habitat. It has been a long, contentious process, stretching back nearly 15 years, but it’s a win that all sportsmen should be proud of.
On the downside, 22 lawsuits have been filed to challenge the final rule. This should come as no surprise, since lawsuits are a common response to every significant federal rulemaking. Most of the lawsuits argue that the final rule goes too far, while some of the lawsuits claim that the final rule doesn’t go far enough.
13 States Miss Out
A common request in many of these lawsuits is for a judge to put the final rule on hold, pending the outcome of the legal proceedings. Some courts have declined to issue such an injunction and postponed any further action on these cases, in general, because the federal government would like to consolidate many of the lawsuits into a single challenge. However, three courts decided to rule on the injunction prior to August 28. The Southern District of Georgia and the Northern District of West Virginia courts held that it isn’t their place to issue an injunction because district courts aren’t the right venue for Clean Water Act challenges.
A judge from the District of North Dakota, however, did believe he could decide on challenges to the Clean Water Act and sided with the 13 states asking for an injunction.
On August 27, just hours before the new clean water rule took effect, the North Dakota court put the rule on hold in the 13 states that filed the challenge, but declined a request to extend the injunction to all 50 states. The court reasoned that these 13 states should not be able to force other states that want cleaner water to forego implementation of the new rule.
Here’s the bottom line: Out of the 22 challenges filed, only one court has decided to take action to impede the clean water rule. And you are being denied the benefits of better Clean Water Act protections if you live in one of the following states: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.
Other States Step Up to Support the Rule
On the bright side, seven states—Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington—and the District of Columbia have joined the litigation in support of the final rule. These states are in favor of the final rule because “it protects their water quality, assists them in administering water pollution programs by dispelling confusion about the [Clean Water Act’s] reach, and prevents harm to their economies by ensuring adequate regulation of waters in upstream states.”
It isn’t clear how long it will take to resolve the ongoing legal battles around this rule. (You know the difference between a good lawyer and a bad lawyer, right? A bad lawyer will drag your case out for years while a good lawyer will make it last even longer.) And in the meantime, members of Congress still have the ability to undermine clean water protections from their seats on Capitol Hill.
In exchange for doing his job, the Speaker of the House lost his job. Late last week, with the end of the fiscal year approaching and no viable budget deal having been prepared to keep the government open, John Boehner, the 61st Speaker of the House, decided to resign at the end of October. He’s devoted nearly a quarter century of distinguished service in the House to the American people.
Ironically, having freed himself from the wrath of the right wing of his own party, the Speaker was able to get a continuing resolution passed with 91 Republican votes and 186 Democratic votes. This legislation keeps our government open and funded until December 11.
Before you think, “I’m not wasting five minutes of hunting season thinking about how Congress can’t get its act together,” consider taking five minutes to urge your members of Congress to follow Boehner’s lead. Because by setting his resignation for the end of October, Boehner has created a month-long open season for compromise. The Speaker is free of the constraints of party politics, if he chooses to be. He could craft a budget deal with Senate Majority Leader McConnell and the President and rely on votes from across the ideological spectrum of the House to pass it.
Before you think, “Well that’s nice, but why should sportsmen care?”—consider these three infographics. The first shows federal funding for conservation as a percentage of the federal budget:
In the last 37 years, funding for conservation as a percentage of the federal budget has been cut in half. This is the money that pays for habitat protection and improvement on Forest Service land, National Wildlife Refuges, Bureau of Land Management acres, and private lands enrolled in Natural Resource Conservation Service programs. Quality habitat creates quality hunting and fishing opportunities, and if this trend line continues to drop, we will lose both.
This next graph shows where your tax dollars go:
That’s right—only one percent of the money you pay in taxes goes toward conservation. Investments in conservation didn’t create our budget deficit and cutting investments in conservation won’t fix our budget deficit. In fact cutting conservation would likely increase our annual budget deficit, because federal investments in conservation have a great return on investment. That one percent of the federal budget that funds our national forests, wildlife refuges, and parks generates $646 billion in annual consumer spending on outdoor recreation.
That’s more than the country spends on gas or pharmaceuticals:
So take five minutes to contact your members of Congress. Tell them to fill their tag during compromise season and stock conservation’s freezer with red meat: a budget deal that invests in fish, wildlife, public access, and your best days afield. Remind them of the dividends—your green going to the outfitters, retailers, gas stations, hotels, corner diners, and all the other American businesses that are a part of your hunting and fishing experiences. Your future seasons depend on it.
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.