A Tale of Two Sportsmen’s BillsWith Congress these days, it can seem like the best of times and the worst of times. After years of relatively little legislative success, members of both chambers and on both sides of the political divide managed to construct and enact a bipartisan Farm Bill that is good for conservation. But more often than not, conservation legislation has largely stagnated in recent years. A bill might gain traction in the Senate but not even get a hearing in the House. Alternatively, legislation that has passed the House gets stopped by the Senate.
This gridlock has worked to the benefit of some conservation issues, when efforts have been made to attack our heritage and dismantle our public lands, but it has also stifled any proactive conservation efforts. Perhaps the thawing of party lines for the Farm Bill bodes well for congressional activity. Action this week on bills that are intended to help sportsmen and women could be the next test of working together to get something right.
On Wednesday February 5, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 3590, the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreation Enhancement Act (SHARE Act). That bill has been touted as an effort to help sportsmen’s access and opportunities, but would at the same time undermine backcountry hunting and fishing and limit public input on management decisions related to hunting and fishing. In addition, while it is intended to support sportsmen’s access, the bill is silent on the Land and Water Conservation Fund that has helped open up thousands of acres to outdoor recreation. It also doesn’t address a number of key conservation programs like the North American Wetlands Conservation Act or the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program.
A Better AlternativeJust the day before, on February 4, a broad bipartisan group of senators led by Senators Kay Hagan and Lisa Murkowski introduced the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2014 (S.1996) that addresses many of the holes left in the SHARE Act. The lead senators each had their own “sportsmen’s bills”, and then methodically worked together to craft a compromise bill that has now garnered the support of 11 senators representing different parts of the country and an equally broad range of political perspectives. The bill solidifies the importance of hunting, fishing and shooting on public lands and addresses key conservation and sportsmen’s needs—but does so in a way that won’t spoil our backcountry experiences or erode the safeguards that will enable us to pass our outdoor legacy on to future generations.
The House has passed their sportsmen’s bill and it’s now the Senate’s turn to take up their bill. If it passes the Senate, it sets a strong marker on how sportsmen’s legislation can be done right and builds the foundation for negotiations with the House. As we learned with the Farm Bill, legislative sausage making can take time, but with strong leadership from passionate members of Congress we are hoping that the end result will be part of the age of wisdom rather than the age of foolishness.
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