Sportsmen’s Act advances in Senate

By Jamila Blake

©Bureau of Land Management

On Mar. 30,  the Sportsmen’s Act (S. 733) advanced through the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources following an en bloc voice vote that sent 65 bills to the Senate floor. The Sportsmen’s Act, which would expand opportunities for outdoor activities and access on public lands, was reintroduced this Congress by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

In a press release, Murkowski stated, “for too long, sportsmen’s access to our federal lands has been restricted without reason or transparency. 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.”

Some components included in the Sportsmen’s Act would allow for lawful transport of bows and crossbows that remain in vehicles while on national park units; implement the Hunt Unrestricted on National Treasures (HUNT) Act; encourage coordination between state, local, and federal agencies; and increase state authority in allocating Pittman-Robertson funding for shooting ranges on public land. The bill would also permanently establish the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council (WHHCC) Advisory Committee to advise the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture on issues relating to wildlife and habitat conservation, hunting, and recreational shooting. Representatives from The Wildlife Society have served on the WHHCC since 2012.

Similar measures were introduced last Congress by Senator Murkowski and Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) — S.556 and S.659 respectively. The purpose of both the proposed Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015 and the current legislation is “to protect and enhance opportunities for recreational hunting, fishing, and shooting, and for other purposes.” The scope of the new bill, however, has been updated from the two previous iterations.

The current bill maintains several efforts initially introduced by Murkowski in 2015, but does not include stipulations to make the Land and Water Conservation Fund available for recreational public access projects. Moreover, the bill introduced by Sullivan addressed amending the Toxic Substances Control Act, baiting of migratory game birds, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, and reauthorization of the Multinational Species Conservation Funds — topics not included in this year’s bill.

Supporters of the bipartisan effort are optimistic about the future of this bill. Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) said, “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.”

Senator James Risch (R-ID) is confident that this year the group will “get the Sportsmen’s Act to the White House.”

Jamila Blake is a policy intern at The Wildlife Society as part of the Wildlife Policy and Programs team. Read more of Jamila's articles here.