With the all too often justifiable gloom and doom coming out of Washington these days, I’m happy to report that there are at least a few times when Republicans and Democrats manage to play well with others. I’m downright delighted to report that the legislation produced on one of those occasions will provide significant benefits for outdoorsmen and a pending 12-bill package has the potential to do even more.
The done deal is the long awaited 2014 Farm Bill. Like all so-called farm bills, more than 80 percent of the money allocated in this one goes to non-farm subsidies for school lunch and other food distribution programs. From the farmer’s point of view, most of the rest of the money is disbursed as compensation – rent, if you will – for the government’s manipulation of land usage and crop pricing.
Such being the case, it’s easy to overlook the fact that the 2014 Farm Bill includes several provisions sure to bring joy to the hearts of conservationists and outdoorsmen. For example, according to a press release put out by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, the bill will “enhance habitat for wildlife, increase access for hunters and anglers, encourage conservation stewardship and protect our forest health.”
Among other means, these admittedly lofty goals are to be accomplished by linking conservation compliance to crop insurance, by allocating funds for wetland and grassland conservation easements and by providing incentive-based ways to help private landowners conserve wetlands and grasslands.
On Feb. 4, the Senate Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus introduced the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2014, its version of the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act, which was introduced in the House earlier. Similar provisions include clarifying the Toxic Substances Control Act to prohibit unwarranted curtailment of the use of lead in fishing tackle or ammunition, amending the Pittman-Robertson Act to allocate more funds to shooting ranges and allowing the Secretary of the Interior to authorize a permanent electronic duck stamp.
The Senate version also includes bills that would require federal land managers to consider how management plans would impact recreational hunting and fishing and to require the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to keep their lands open to hunting, fishing and shooting. A stand-alone bill to fund the acquisition of rights of way across private property to reach isolated public land has yet to be introduced.
One bill included in the Senate version is a sure winner with waterfowl hunters. It would transfer the authority to define normal agricultural practices from the Fish and Wildlife Service to the USDA extension offices located in the individual states. This change should go a long way toward keeping innocent hunters from being charged with baiting waterfowl – which can result in fines up to $10,000 – while making it easier to identify real baiting activity.
A couple of the act’s provisions impact only a few people. One of these would allow the Secretary of the Interior “to make limited waivers of duck stamp requirements for certain subsistence users.” This makes sense, given the current nonsensical situation. Despite the fact that they’re American citizens, most American Indians, Eskimos and Innuits are exempt from the hunting seasons, bag limits and method restrictions the rest of us have to endure. Making them buy a duck stamp does sound a little silly.
Another provision affects a handful of people at the other end of the economic spectrum. Prior to 2008, polar bear hunting was legal in Canada, albeit under a myriad of restrictions. An American citizen could cross the border, plunk down a mid-five-figure hunk of change and go on the ultimate fair chase hunt. However, he could not bring his legally taken trophy back into the United States. The new law would correct that absurdity.
This is an election year, so nobody expects Congress to accomplish much. It would be difficult for any representative or senator up for re-election to vote against something with a name like “The Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act” or the “Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2014,” if the nation’s conservationists and outdoorsmen make enough noise. Let your senators and representative know how you feel by sending them polite, to-the-point letters or emails. Then follow up by doing some independent research to see how closely what they say matches what they do.