HUNT Act Would Open Locked Public Lands

Recreating outdoors—whether you fish, hunt, hike, camp, or all of the above—is not only a ton of fun, it’s also good for you. There is considerable evidence the exercise involved with these activities, coupled with the de-stressing benefits of being in nature, promote physical and mental health.

For a majority of Americans, participating in their favorite outdoor activities often involve being able to access public lands. For sportsmen and women especially, public lands are often vital for enjoying hunting and fishing. Unfortunately, many federal public lands are actually off-limits to the public because they are surrounded by private lands and lack legal access. A recent report found that more than four million acres of these so-called “landlocked” public lands in the West are closed to outdoor recreation.

“Surveys and polls conducted of sportsmen and women across the country consistently demonstrate that access is one of the most important priorities,” said John Gale, sportsmen campaigns manager for the National Wildlife Federation. “As we groom the next generation of anglers, hunters and stewards of our fish, wildlife and rich public lands, it’s incumbent upon us to ensure our sporting heritage and outdoor traditions can be passed down to them enriched and not marginalized.”

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico), sponsor of the HUNT Act, plays a trout in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in New Mexico earlier this year. Photo by Garrett VeneKlasen

The HUNT Act would improve access on public lands

The Hunt Unrestricted on National Treasures Act (S.1554) seeks to fix the problem of poor access due to “landlocked” public lands. The HUNT Act would require federal land management agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to identify public tracts larger than 640 acres that have recreational potential but are currently closed to public access. For each of those major parcels, the legislation would establish the most appropriate method for providing public access, including working with willing landowners to purchase access easements. If approved, the HUNT Act will represent the only federal program specifically targeting landlocked public lands for enhanced access.

In some cases, a simple trail across private lands acquired through the HUNT Act would literally open thousands of acres to public use. In this way, the proposal represents a cost-effective way to make sure Americans are permitted the fullest access possible, while at the same time compensating willing landowners for this access.

The HUNT Act would require no additional taxes and fees. Funds for easements and other access improvements would come from allocating up to 1.5 percent of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which receives revenues from offshore oil and gas drilling. Congress typically under funds the LWCF every year to pay for things that have nothing to do with the fund’s intent, but that’s a whole other story.

The HUNT Act would also help protect the traditions of America’s 47 million hunters and anglers, who account for more than $200 billion in economic activity and support 1.5 million jobs across the country. These same sportsmen and women also generate hundreds of millions dollars annually for wildlife habitat, including non-game habitat.

The National Wildlife Federation, along with our allies and state affiliate the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, was in Washington D.C. earlier this week for a Senate subcommittee hearing to provide support for the HUNT Act, which is sponsored by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM).

Hunters and anglers strongly support Heinrich’s bill

Sen Heinrich, arguably the best advocate for sportsmen in Congress today, with a spring turkey from earlier this year.
Sen. Heinrich, arguably the most prolific advocate for sportsmen and public lands currently working in Congress, with a spring turkey from earlier this year. Photo courtesy New Mexico Wildlife Federation.
Numerous sportsmen and conservation organizations submitted comments in support of the measure. NWF also submitted detailed comments with our closest sportsmen allies.

“New Mexico sportsmen have a lot riding on the outcome of the HUNT Act — more than half a million acres of public land that we currently can’t hunt or hike because the access is blocked,” said NMWF Executive Director Garrett VeneKlasen. “The HUNT Act lays out a sensible approach to regaining access to these public lands by first requiring the land management agencies to inventory them. That will help ensure we don’t lose even more ground in the future.”

Sen. Heinrich, arguably the most avid sportsman in Congress today, also champions fully-funding LWCF and lobbied the President to establish the country’s newest national monument in his home state earlier this year.

“Hunters and anglers nationwide tip their hat to Sen. Heinrich for his leadership on this legislation,” Gale said.

Take ActionDespite this great proposal to expand access on public lands, there are some in Congress that are attempting to sell off our cherished public lands. Please tell your legislators to stop targeting our public lands.

You can view Sen. Heinrich’s presentation on the the HUNT ACT to the Senate’s Public Lands, Forests, and Mining Subcommittee here: