Today, the four House leaders of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, Reps. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), Rob Wittman (R-Va.), Gene Green (D-Texas), and Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), introduced the bipartisan “Sportsmen’s Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Enhancement Act,” or SCORE Act (HR 3173), in the 114th Congress. Combined with the previously introduced SHARE Act (HR 2406), these bills constitute a major victory for fish and wildlife habitat, and improved access for America’s hunters and anglers.
Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) and Ron Kind (D-Wis.), all past chairs of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, are also supporting SCORE.
“The sportsmen’s community can stand squarely behind this bill as a great step forward in protecting our ability to fund and implement the conservation of at-risk habitats, species, and access,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “It’s a good example of bipartisan legislation that addresses the needs of America’s hunters and anglers, and we’d like to see a lot more of that consensus.”
The bill contains seven provisions to reauthorize or implement legislation that helps fund conservation programs on federal and private lands, which boosts sportsmen’s access to quality hunting and fishing, including reauthorization of the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act (FLTFA). Prior to its expiration in 2011, FLTFA had leveraged strategic federal land sales to fund 39 priority conservation projects, including many that expanded sportsmen’s access to world-class hunting and fishing opportunities.
“There is a lot to like in this legislation,” said Kameran Onley, director of U.S. government relations for The Nature Conservancy. “It shows a significant bipartisan commitment to conservation and wildlife habitat protection, as well as sportsmen’s access and recreational opportunities that help grow our economy. We’re encouraged to see the bill include so many effective, fiscally-sound programs that provide both economic and conservation benefits.”
The Act would reauthorize two conservation grant programs with matched-dollar incentives: the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) and the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act. Each federal dollar invested in these grant programs is matched, on average, three times over by non-federal dollars that have major on-the-ground impacts for the conservation of wetlands, waterfowl, and other wildlife. “Conserving and protecting our nation’s wetlands is at the core of Ducks Unlimited,” said DU’s Chief Policy Officer Margaret Everson. “NAWCA funding is a critical component for DU to carry out our mission of conserving, restoring, and managing wetlands and habitats for North America’s waterfowl. We’re pleased this legislation calls for the reauthorization of these programs and appreciate the continued support for our community from Representatives Wittman, Walz, Duncan, and Green.”
A provision often referred to as Making Public Lands Public, which has garnered significant bipartisan support as a standalone piece of legislation, is also a part of the package. It requires that 1.5 percent of annual Land and Water Conservation Fund monies be made available to establish and expand recreational access to federal public lands. “We are thrilled to see bi-partisan support for the SCORE Act, and we are particularly excited to see the ‘Making Public Lands Public’ provision included,” said Land Tawney, executive director for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA). “Public lands are the cornerstone of our sporting heritage and public access to these lands is a priority for BHA. We look forward to swift action and ultimate passage of the SCORE Act. The steak has sizzled on the grill long enough—it’s time to set the table and pass a sportsmen’s package.”
SCORE includes a sense of Congressional support for the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act, which was previously introduced in Congress in 2014 to improve fish habitat through partnerships that foster conservation projects or enhance recreational fishing opportunities. These partnerships would “support the economic significance of fish habitat resources and the recreational, subsistence, and commercial fishing linked to these resources in the United States.”
“The recreational fishing industry strongly supports and, in fact, depends on healthy fish habitat that provides abundant fish stocks, which are enjoyed by our nation’s 60 million anglers,” said Mike Leonard, ocean resource policy director for the American Sportfishing Association and National Fish Habitat Partnership board member. “In addition to the other public access and habitat improvement provisions in this bill, we strongly support the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act and hope to see it advance in this Congress as part of a broader sportsmen’s package.”
Finally, SCORE would reauthorize the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a congressionally-chartered grant-making organization that works with public and private stakeholders, and Partners for Fish and Wildlife, which assists private landowners in preserving habitat for federally-managed species. “It’s vitally important that Congress now pass the SCORE Act, so that these important conservation measures can continue and the investments the American public has made in wildlife conservation programs can reap rewards for years to come,” said David Houghton, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association. “We’re particularly pleased to see reauthorization of the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, because this important program helps private landowners keep working lands working.”
The National Wild Turkey Federation also supports this legislation, which pairs well with their ‘Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt’ initiative. “This bill helps us protect habitat that supports wildlife and hunting access, thus protecting our hunting heritage for millions of Americans to enjoy,” said Becky Humphries, chief conservation officer for NWTF.
SHARE, which has also been supported by sportsmen’s groups, assures access for hunters and anglers, while SCORE seeks to improve habitat. Together, these bills assure a bright future for American sportsmen and women.
“The SCORE Act has major implications for wildlife habitat conservation in the United States and provides vital funding for partnership efforts to preserve and safeguard America’s outdoor traditions,” said Howard Vincent, president and CEO of Pheasants Forever, Inc. “Pheasants Forever and its members urge Congress to swiftly pass this bipartisan legislation for our nation’s wild places, wildlife, and all who enjoy it.”