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Legislator cosponsors bill to assure access to public land

Published September 17. 2011 09:01AM

While hunter recruitment has been a major concern of sportsmen in recent years, Pennsylvania still ranks among the states with the largest percentage of resident hunters.

In addition, recent studies in other states and Canadian providences indicate Pennsylvanians are among the leaders among sportsmen who hunt out of state. As such, it is understandable that U.S. Representative Mike Kelly (R-PA) is a cosponsor of a new bill that will improve and increase hunting and fishing opportunities as a priority on 440 million acres of federal public lands.

This newly proposed "Recreational Fishing and Hunting Heritage and Opportunities Act," was introduced earlier this month by Reps. Dan Benishek (R-MI) and Dan Boren (D-OK). Rep. Don Young (R-AK) is another cosponsor and the bill is also supported by other key members of the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, members of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus, the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance, the American Sportfishing Association, National Rifle Association, Safari Club International, and the Congressional Sportsmen Foundation.

This vast acreage is managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, is found from coast to coast, and is used and relied on by many public land hunters, trappers, shooters and anglers. This bill, championed by the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance and other leading angling and hunting organizations, establishes in law that recreational fishing, hunting, trapping and shooting are important and traditional activities to be continued on these public lands and that fish and wildlife conservation is improved by protecting these activities.

"The USSA has strongly encouraged such legislation for over a decade to spell out in law that fishing and hunting on federal public lands must be protected from the rising animal rights lobby," USSA director of federal affairs Bill Horn said. "This bill will provide needed protection for years to come."

This landmark measure recognizes that recreational anglers, hunters and shooters have been, and continue to be, the foremost supporters of sound fish and wildlife management and conservation in the United States. The bill further highlights that hunting, fishing and recreational shooting occurs on Federal public lands and waters, without adverse impacts or effects on other uses or users.

These features are similar to the designation of fishing and hunting as priority public uses on refuge lands in the 1997 National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act, which has curtailed attempts by anti-hunting groups to stop hunting on some public lands where hunting has traditionally occurred. USSA played a key role in enacting the 1997 Act and has been working since then to expand these concepts to USFS and BLM lands.

Animal rights activists, however, continue to press for fishing and hunting closures on public lands, and these assaults against hunters take several routes. Some courts require the land's managing agencies to actively consider wholesale hunting and shooting closures to appease this fringe group.

In other cases, fishing and hunting get treated as "new" activities which cannot be authorized and continued until numerous lengthy and costly environmental reviews and land plans are completed. This new bill will block these threats.

"We have been very pleased to work with Reps. Benishek and Boren and the House Natural Resources Committee to develop this important legislation," Horn said. "USSA stands ready to assure enactment of the bill into law to ensure that our hunting and fishing heritage on federal public lands is protected."

When enacted, the Recreational Fishing and Hunting Heritage and Opportunities Act would specify that federal public land management officials shall exercise their authority under existing law, including provisions regarding land-use planning, to facilitate use of and access to federal public lands and waters for fishing, hunting, and recreational shooting. Going forward, all management plans would include provisions for those popular practices.

Affected lands that will be open include lands under the jurisdiction of the BLM and the USFS, including lands designated Wilderness or administratively classified as Wilderness eligible or suitable, and primitive or semi-primitive areas. National parks, however, are excluded from the Act as are Wildlife Refuges and are already governed by the 1997 Act.

Also recognized under the Recreational Fishing and Hunting Heritage and Opportunities Act will be the work of conservation organizations and their assistance to fish and wildlife managers and enforcement officers at the federal, state and local government levels. Hunters and anglers volunteer countless hours to fish and wildlife conservation projects across America that have also benefitted all public lands and citizens in general. Additionally, associated outdoors industries have generated billions of dollars of critical funding for fish and wildlife conservation, research and management through revenues from purchases of fish and hunting licenses and permits. Many other projects undertaken on BLM and USFS lands are funded by excise taxes in the billions of dollars on fishing, hunting and shooting equipment, and those funds are critical funding for fish and wildlife conservation, research and management and are unequalled by any group or program in the nation.

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