Critical measures for public lands and sportsmen’s access had broad support but didn’t make it across the finish line
Last night, the 115th Congress moved closer to adjourning after failing to advance a wide-ranging and noncontroversial public lands package that had been under careful development by lawmakers for years. Part of the proposed legislation was a permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, key provisions from the Sportsmen’s Act, Pittman-Robertson Modernization, and numerous regionally specific bills.
“These critical measures for our public lands and sportsmen’s access were teed-up and ready to go with broad support, yet Congress still failed to get them across the finish line,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “While we truly appreciate the best efforts of some lawmakers who went to bat for this, we are disappointed to see common-sense solutions kicked down the road yet again.”
Chief among the opportunities missed was a reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which expired on September 30 despite the efforts of an outspoken, diverse coalition of advocates. For more than 50 years, the LWCF has helped conserve habitat and create public access for hunting and fishing all across the nation.
“Permanently reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund should have been an easy win for lawmakers of both parties,” says Fosburgh. “We still have 9.5 million acres of landlocked public lands in the West, and the task of conserving important fish and wildlife habitats is no less critical, but we no longer have at our disposal the best tool to address these issues.”
With the 115th Congress now at a close, sportsmen and women are turning their attention to the prospects of advancing the lands package in the next two years. When a new Congress convenes in January, much could be accomplished by making good on the unfinished business of the last session, with a simple reintroduction of these bills and expeditious votes.
Congressional champions of the public lands package include Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), and House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah, 1st) and Ranking Member Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz., 3rd). These decision-makers fought hard for consideration of the package this year and are now working to secure a commitment from House and Senate leadership to move to consider the package in early 2019.
There have been few chances in recent memory to achieve so much for fish, wildlife, and the future of hunting and fishing, and certainly none as ready-made as this. “If our Congressional leaders take seriously the priorities of sportsmen and women, this lands package should be high on their agenda when they begin work in 2019,” says Fosburgh. “Common-sense, noncontroversial solutions to some of the most pressing conservation challenges are simply waiting for our elected officials to act. We hope that the next Congress will honor the collaboration and effort that went into this deal by considering and voting on these bills when they convene in early January.”
Photo Credit: Wyatt Bensken