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I just finished a sportsmen’s D.C. fly-in, and, boy, are my arms tired (ba-dum-chhh).
But seriously, folks.
More than a dozen sportsmen just wrapped up three days in Washington, D.C., last week talking to their elected officials about the importance of clean water to hunting and fishing. It was just in time, too. There’s a disturbing trend in Congress of members ignoring the views of sportsmen who rely on clean water to enjoy quality days in the field. For instance, on July 16, 2014, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved three pieces of legislation that undermine our bedrock water quality safeguards. TRCP partner Trout Unlimited rightly took them to task:
“Forty years ago the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee played a leadership role in enacting one of the nation’s most vital natural resource conservation laws, the Clean Water Act,” said Steve Moyer, Trout Unlimited’s vice president of government affairs. “Today, the Committee hammered the law with some of the most ill-conceived attacks in the history of the act.”
One of the bills would derail a Clean Water Act rulemaking that will clarify protections for headwater streams and wetlands and better define which waters are covered by the Clean Water Act and – just as importantly – which ones are not.
Sportsmen in D.C. last week told lawmakers from several states that this rulemaking is the best chance in a generation to definitively restore some protections to valuable fisheries and waterfowl habitats – protections that existed for nearly 30 years prior to 2001 – and Congress should not interfere with the process.
“Protecting America’s waters is important to anglers all across this country,” said Bob Rees, executive director, Association of Northwest Steelheaders, one of the fly-in participants. “Whether you fish for trout in North Carolina, bass in Missouri or salmon in Oregon, this is an issue that directly impacts us all.”
Signed into law in 1972, the Clean Water Act is one of our most successful environmental statutes. It has transformed rivers that once literally caught on fire into productive fisheries and vibrant aquatic ecosystems. And it slowed a rate of wetland loss that, in 1972, exceeded a half-million acres per year.
What’s been unclear at least since 2001 is to which waters the law applies. In 2001 and again in 2006 the Supreme Court issued decisions concerning Clean Water Act jurisdiction that, combined with subsequent agency guidance, actually confused the issue. What we’re left with is an administrative mess slowing down permit applications and water bodies at increased risk of pollution and destruction. The rate of wetlands loss – one of the great metrics of the success of the Clean Water Act – actually increased by 140 percent during the years immediately following the Supreme Court decisions. This is the first documented acceleration of wetland loss in the history of the Clean Water Act.
Since the Supreme Court decisions, a broad cross section of stakeholders has called for a rulemaking to clarify where the Clean Water Act applies. Many sportsmen’s groups have been asking for a rulemaking for years. So have state agencies, local elected officials, industry associations and farming and ranching groups, as well as Supreme Court justices.
After nearly 15 years of confusion, the agencies responsible finally obliged. On March 25, 2014, a proposed draft rule was published that is open for public comment through mid-October.
“Approximately two-thirds of the 13 million Pennsylvanians get drinking water from headwater streams that would benefit from this proposal,” said Jeff Ripple, chairman of the Environmental Committee for Pennsylvania Trout Unlimited and another fly-in participant. “This is not just about fishing; the status quo is putting the economy and our way of life at risk for the benefit of a few.”
Since the draft was published, we have heard a lot from groups opposing the proposed rule and congressmen intent on derailing the rulemaking even while it is still in the public comment phase. What’s been getting short shrift in this debate are the potential benefits of a rulemaking for America’s 47 million hunters and anglers. Sportsmen, who generate $200 billion in total economic activity each year and support 1.5 million jobs, rely on clean water to pursue their sporting traditions.
To be clear, the rulemaking must be done in a way that works for our partners in agriculture. We rely on them in many of our conservation efforts and for access to places to hunt and fish.
But efforts to stop the rulemaking before the public has had a chance to review and comment on the proposal are misguided and ignore the wishes of sportsmen. Now is not the time to throw the proposed rule away and lock in the current jurisdictional confusion indefinitely. It is time to improve it through broad public involvement.
On days like this one, hours after the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act failed on the Senate floor, I think of other, more obviously rewarding lines of work. Chesapeake Bay waterfowl hunting guide, perhaps?
Ten years ago, when I came to Washington, D.C., seeking to create a career that combined my loves of politics and hunting, this was still a town where things could get done, a town where you could still have fun at work. Things have changed. This is now a town sick with partisanship, where even good ideas often can count on inglorious defeat.
The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2014, or S. 2363, was the result of a lot of work by Sens. Kay Hagan (D-NC) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) over the course of more than a year. After learning lessons from an unsuccessful attempt to pass a sportsmen’s legislative package late in 2012, Hagan and Murkowski assembled a package that addressed many sportsmen’s priorities but avoided some of the more controversial measures from 2012. As a result, they achieved something almost unheard of in Washington: They crafted a bill that had virtually no credible opposition.
S. 2363 has 46 cosponsors, split almost evenly among Republicans and Democrats. Conservatives and progressives cosponsored the legislation, realizing the economic and political importance of America’s hunters and anglers. But in Washington, even the best made plans are subject to crashing on the rocks of short-sighted partisanship.
The probable end of the Sportsmen’s Act of 2014 resulted not from the content of the legislation, and it certainly should not be taken as a measure of the value of sportsmen. No, the end of S.2363 came about because many in the Senate would rather haggle for political victories than pass meaningful legislation with strong public support. Amendments that had nothing to do with the bill’s original intent were offered by both sides of the aisle, and in a gridlocked Senate, the process predictably broke down amidst calls of foul play and obstruction from the leaders of both parties.
Floor time in the United States Senate is not a trifling thing. Literally thousands of pieces of legislation and the champions who support those bills vie for a shot at the Senate floor. But in today’s Washington, getting floor time is no guarantee of safe passage; indeed, advancing a bill to the Senate floor doesn’t even guarantee an up or down vote on the legislation. But those of us who advocate on behalf of America’s hunters and anglers will dust ourselves off this morning, survey the playing field in the days, weeks, and months ahead, and chart a course forward. Working with our congressional champions and our partners – and with the support of sportsmen like you – we pledge to get this legislation over the finish line. A slim possibility for the bill’s advancement exists before the 113th Congress ends. And the prospect of a new version of the bill being introduced in the future is not outside the realm of possibility. Better late than never.
TRCP Western Outreach Director Neil Thagard, a Minox Optics Adventure Team member, recently got the opportunity to chase Merriam’s turkeys in Wyoming in an area where he has arrowed numerous birds. This spring, Neil (along with his wife Catherine behind the camera) experienced cold weather with high winds and snow. On the few days he was able to hunt, he found birds, though he never connected.
However, this opportunity would not have been possible without access to public lands. The cooperation of private landowners and the Wyoming Game & Fish Department through the Access Yes program provides hunters and anglers access to otherwise inaccessible lands. For every dollar donated to the program, nearly 4.6 acres of access is provided to all hunters and anglers who hunt and fish in Wyoming – residents and non-residents alike. Many other states have similar access programs.
Watch a video of Neil’s hunt below. How important is access to you? Let us know on the TRCP Facebook page.
With the clock ticking down on the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act, take the opportunity to learn more about the legislation. Then, give your Senators a call to voice your support for the package.
The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act (S. 2363) is an historic piece of legislation that features some of the most important measures to benefit America’s 40 million sportsmen in years. The bill includes a number of provisions to expand public access and conserve fish and wildlife habitat for generations. S.2363 enjoys the support of many major hunting and angling organizations across the country. That support has been matched by a bipartisan cosponsor list of 45 Senators.
America’s hunters and anglers, who annually contribute $200 billion to the national economy and continue to play a vital role in the promotion of sustainable land use, deserve equal footing with other multiple uses on federal lands.
The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act includes the following 14 provisions:
The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act is at a critical crossroads. Pick up the phone and let your Senators know that you support the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act today!
In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.Learn More