Now that election season has come and gone, politicians are free to get back to the rhetorical jousting and policy amending they're paid for. And after a quick Thanksgiving vacation, they might just do that.
Among the topics likely to be taken up and formally voted upon once the U.S. Senate is revived from its food coma is a collection of bills known as the Sportsmen's Act of 2012 (S. 3525) introduced by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.). The bipartisan package combines broad-based bills from both the House and Senate that many sportsmen's conservation groups deem essential to the continued promotion of public hunting and fishing access, habitat conservation and suitably funded resource management, among other things.
All told, the legislation integrates some 20 bills, including one each from Colorado U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall designed to improve access for bow hunters and provide funding for public shooting ranges. Other notable elements are Sen. David Vitter's (R-La.) Billfish Conservation Act and Sen. Roger Wicker's (R-Miss.) duck stamp legislation.
At its root, though, the Sportsmen's Act is about improving habitat and increasing access for hunters and fishermen on public land by reauthorizing the Federal Lands Transaction Facilitation Act and requiring that 1.5 percent from the annual Land and Water Conservation Fund is set aside specifically to secure easements and purchase in-holdings on existing public lands with access-restricted acreage.
Loss of access remains the leading factor in the loss of hunters and fishermen, with more than half (52 percent) of sportsmen surveyed who lost access to a hunting location last year saying they spent less time hunting as a result, according to the research firm Southwick and Associates. A full 11 percent said the lost land kept them from hunting altogether. According to Tester's office, an agency report to Congress found that 35 million acres of public land had inadequate access.
Bennet's sensible contribution to the access issue aims to clarify the rights of bowhunters who want to cross national park lands in order to access legal hunting areas outside of park boundaries. Currently, hunters with archery equipment don't enjoy the same rights as those with firearms allowed to transport their guns through national parks to access adjacent hunting lands. Under Bennet's bill, hunting within park service boundaries remains illegal.
Udall proposes another common sense measure that amends the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937 to give states the flexibility to use excise tax funds on guns and ammunition for the creation and maintenance of shooting ranges. Gun-owning hunters are already paying the brunt of the $700 million generated annually from the tax, and Udall's Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act provides a safe outlet for recreational shooters to practice without adding any additional fees.
If there's a knock on the Sportsmen's Act of 2012, it's the proposed reaffirmation of the law that prohibits the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating lead ammunition and fishing tackle. Lead bullets and buckshot dominate the industry despite the potential hazards of lead poisoning to both game and people, with similar concerns over the lead sinkers used by fishermen. The bill leaves the regulation of lead use to state fish and game agencies and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which currently oversee the issue.
With ample conservation measures including reauthorization of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Partners for Fish and Wildlife program, there's more to condone than to condemn in the Sportsmen's Act of 2012.
It's worth dropping a note or phone message to the folks representing us in Washington before the turkey recess, if for no other reason than to voice support for the title. Otherwise, we could be looking for the Sportsmen's Act of 2013, and there's no telling what that might bring.
Scott Willoughby: 303-954-1993 or email@example.com