Will there be room on the agenda to pass the Sportsmen's Act?

Given how many fires there are to be put out in Washington these days I’m not sure how much hope I’m holding out for this, but there is a bit of business which Congress could accomplish without much trouble which would actually help people. I’m speaking of the third attempt to pass what’s come to be known as the Sportsmen’s Bill. Sponsored by Senators Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the bill seeks to arrange for access for hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreational activity to millions of acres of public land which is currently locked off because they are surrounded by privately owned land.

Heinrich is one of the lead sponsors of a bill designed to improve access to federal land for hunting, fishing and other recreation. Similar packages failed in the last two sessions of Congress. Despite the partisan gridlock in Washington, Heinrich is optimistic about the legislation’s prospects this time. His co-sponsor, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and plans to use her significant influence to get the bill drafted and voted on early so it does not get mired in election-year politics like the last one did.

“I’m optimistic that the third time is going to be the charm,” Murkowski said during a Senate hearing on the bill Thursday.

“I am very, very serious that … we are going to deliver on this sportsmen’s bill. It is an issue we’ve been working on for far too long.”

You can download an overview of the bill here. There are fourteen sections to it, but a few of the highlights seem like they should be able to draw enough support to get through without too much pain and angst. It will require BLM and Forest Service lands to be open for hunting, fishing and shooting sports while leaving national parks exempt from the requirement. Under another provision, small film crews of up to five people will be more easily able to obtain permits to film on public lands. But perhaps most importantly, it will authorize the use of existing Land and Water Conservation funds for the purchase and development of access lanes through lands which are currently held privately so outdoor sportsmen can access federal lands which can not be legally reached today. Current estimates show that roughly four million acres are now locked off in that fashion.

There are a few more provisions which are going to draw attacks – mostly from the Left – and they may need to be modified in the amendment process or trimmed out to get the main part of the bill through. One would provide a permanent exemption for lead shot from current laws restricting the use of lead. Another would provide funding to help state and local authorities establish and maintain public shooting ranges on federal lands. Both environmental advocates and anti-gun nuts are going to oppose those, I’m sure, though both are worth doing. But even if we can’t get them through, it really shouldn’t stop the rest of the bill.

This isn’t one of those sexy, high profile bills which the media enjoys going nuts over, so I don’t know how much priority it will receive. But it deserves a fair debate and – hopefully – a vote to get this done.

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