U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Jim Risch, R-Idaho, Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., Deb Fischer, R-Neb., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., this week introduced S. 733, the Sportsmen’s Act of 2017. This bipartisan package expands and enhances sportsmen’s access by making federal lands throughout Alaska and the nation “open unless closed” for fishing, hunting, recreational shooting, and other outdoor activities.
“For too long, sportsmen’s access to our federal lands has been restricted without reason or transparency,” Murkowski said. “Our bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act will ensure that our federal lands are open unless closed, provide new opportunities for more Americans to enjoy those lands, and require federal agencies to expand and enhance access in accordance with their missions. The bill we introduced is an important first step as we seek to have these priorities signed into law.”
“The number one issue for sportsmen across the country is access. This widely supported, bipartisan bill will open more areas to hunting and fishing and grow America's thriving outdoor recreation economy,” said Heinrich. “Hunting and fishing are a way of life for millions of Americans – especially in New Mexico where outdoor recreation as a whole is directly responsible for 68,000 jobs. Sportsmen have a deep connection to the outdoors and benefit from the recreation, wildlife, and water that our public lands provide and I remain deeply committed to conserving these treasured places for our children and all future generations to enjoy.”
“With more than a half-a-million sportsmen and women in Idaho alone, this legislation will ensure they can continue to access their favorite hunting or fishing spot,” said Risch, Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair. “This year, I am confident we can get the Sportsmen’s Act to the White House.”
“As an avid sportsman, I know firsthand that our hunting and fishing heritage is so important to who we are as West Virginians and as Americans,” said Manchin, Co-Chair of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus. “This bipartisan bill will boost West Virginia’s economy while expanding hunting and fishing rights and allowing people a greater ability to enjoy the outdoors. I truly believe that people in the Mountain State and across this nation should be able to enjoy hunting and recreational shooting and have the ability to go out and enjoy the outdoors. We should protect these traditions that help define who we are and I’m proud to join my colleagues to introduce this important piece of legislation.”
“I’m proud to once again join my colleagues to promote America’s hunting, fishing, and conservation heritage through the Sportsmen’s Act,” said Fischer. “This legislation includes measures to enhance opportunities for Nebraska sportsmen and women. As Vice Chair of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, I am committed to preserving outdoor recreation for future generations to enjoy.”
“North Dakotans have so many opportunities to enjoy the outdoors through hunting and fishing—and the bipartisan bill I helped reintroduce today would expand those opportunities further,” said Heitkamp. “Whether it’s ice fishing in the winter or pheasant hunting in the fall, getting out and enjoying nature sets our state apart. By improving access to public lands, creating more shooting ranges, and providing for input from sportsmen on federal policies, our bipartisan bill would make sure future generations have the same chance to take advantage of the great outdoors.”
The Sportsmen’s Act, S. 733, was referred to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and would:
- Provide a clear congressional declaration of policy for all federal departments and agencies to facilitate the expansion and enhancement of hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting opportunities on federal lands in accordance with their missions;
- Establish a national “open unless closed” standard for Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service lands, while ensuring the public has notice of and can comment on decisions regarding temporary and permanent closures;
- Require agency justifications for proposed closures, and limit temporary closures to no more than 180 days (subject to renewal only after a new notice and comment period);
- Prohibit the National Park Service from restricting the lawful transportation of bows and crossbows that remain in a vehicle while an individual is in a national park unit;
- Facilitate commercial filming on public lands by requiring agencies to finalize a single joint land-use fee schedule within 180 days, exempting small crews of three or less from commercial filming fees, exempting small businesses from having to acquire additional permits and pay additional fees for incidental filming, and ensuring that First Amendment rights to free speech and newsgathering are protected on federal lands;
- Implement the “Hunt Unrestricted on National Treasures” (HUNT) Act, which would direct all relevant agencies to improve access to high-priority federal lands where hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation are permitted;
- Increase states’ authority to allocate Pittman-Robertson funding for shooting ranges on public lands, while encouraging federal land management agencies to cooperate with state and local governments to maintain ranges; and
- Permanently establish the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council Advisory Committee to advise the Secretary of the Interior and Secretary of Agriculture on issues relating to wildlife and habitat conservation, hunting, and recreational shooting.
Murkowski is chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. The Sportsmen’s Act, S. 733, will be considered during the committee’s business meeting on Thursday, March 30. Last Congress, Murkowski added a similar sportsmen’s package to her broad, bipartisan energy bill through an amendment that passed by a vote of 97 to 0.