Two separate actions in Washington, D.C., on Thursday have the fishing andhunting communities applauding.
Members of the Transportation Bill conference committee reached a compromisethat includes two measures, the RESTORE the Gulf Coast Act and reauthorizationof the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, that together, will have asignificant impact on fisheries conservation and habitat enhancement in theUnited States.
Also, the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee approved thefiscal year 2013 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill that includes $7.5million to expand and enhance access for hunting, fishing and recreationalshooting on U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands.
The bipartisan, bicameral agreement on the Transportation Billreauthorization is drawing high praise from the nation’s sportfishing industryand the broader recreational fishing community.
“The importance of this agreement to recreational fishing across the country,and in the Gulf of Mexico region in particular, cannot be overstated,” saidAmerican Sportfishing Association (ASA) Vice President Gordon Robertson. “We areextremely grateful that the members of the conference committee were able toreach a compromise that will benefit our nation’s fisheries resources and theanglers who enjoy them for years to come.”
The conference report for the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st CenturyAct, commonly known as the Highway Transportation Bill, includesnearly-identical language to the RESTORE the Gulf Coast Act as reported out ofthe Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in September, 2011.
The bill directs 80 percent of the Clean Water Act penalties charged to BP asa result of the April 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill to the restoration ofthe Gulf Coast environment and economy. Without Congressional action, thesepenalties, which are estimated to be between $5.4 and $21.1 billion, would gointo the general treasury instead of toward Gulf recovery.
The majority of these funds will be distributed to the five Gulf Coast statesand the newly established Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council for economicand environmental restoration projects throughout the Gulf of Mexico region,such as wetlands restoration, construction of boat ramps and tourismpromotion.
Of particular importance to fisheries management, the RESTORE Act alsoestablishes a program that will provide funding for needed fisheries stockassessments and data collection in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Many Members of Congress played significant roles in supporting the RESTOREAct, but ASA particularly thanks the leadership of Senators Landrieu (D-La.),Nelson (D-Fla.) and Shelby (R-Ala.) and Representative Scalise (R-La.) forseeing this through to the finish,” said Robertson. “Without their dedicatedefforts to ensure that the RESTORE Act remained in the Transportation Bill, itcould have easily been left out.”
A separate section of the Transportation Bill reauthorizes the Sport FishRestoration and Boating Trust Fund, commonly known as the Wallop-Breaux Act,which directs hundreds of millions of dollars annually to state fish andwildlife agencies' fishing and boating programs.
Funds for this important program are collected largely from the federalmanufacturers excise taxes on fishing equipment and the motorboat fuel tax. Theprogram had to be authorized as part of the Transportation Bill in order tocapture the revenue from that part of the federal fuel tax attributable to motorboat and small engine use.
“Through the Sport Fish Restoration program, the sportfishing industryprovides the backbone of fisheries management and conservation funding in thiscountry,” Robertson said. “In these lean fiscal times, all federal programs areat risk, but ASA and our partners have diligently worked to ensure that thesuccess and vitality of this program will remain secure.”
The National Shooting Sports Foundation® (NSSF®) alongwith partner organizations such as the Boone and Crockett Club, NRA, theCongressional Sportsmen's Foundation and others have worked on provision withthe Appropriations Committee. If included in the final appropriations measure,the funding will allow the Forest Service and BLM to acquire rights-of-way andother land interests from willing-seller landowners to open access to existingfederal lands for hunting and fishing where it is closed or significantlyrestricted.
"The biggest challenge facing hunters and shooters is diminishing access topublic lands. This important appropriations provision addresses this challengehead-on, and the NSSF is deeply grateful to Appropriations Committee ChairmanHarold Rogers and Interior Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson for championingthis cause," said Larry Keane, senior vice president and general counsel ofNSSF, the trade association for the firearms, ammunition, hunting and shootingsports industry.
Boone and Crockett Club Chairman Bob Model praised Chairman Simpson for "hislongstanding and deep commitment to enhancing hunting opportunities on ourpublic lands."
For the 32 million American hunters, anglers and recreational shooters,federal public lands are increasingly vital to their participation in outdoorsports. Nearly half of all hunters, for example, pursue their passion on publiclands. Reduced access is repeatedly cited as the primary reason that hunters,anglers and recreational shooters stop participating in these sports.
A 2004 report to the House Committee on Appropriations concluded that morethan 35 million acres of BLM and Forest Service land have inadequate access.Specifically, nearly 2 million acres (or 10 percent) of Forest Service lands inMontana and 8.4 million acres (or 29 percent) of BLM lands in theMontana/Dakotas region were identified as having inadequate access.
Sportsmen and women make important contributions to both wildlifeconservation and the nation's economy. The hunting and shooting sports industrycreates 210,000 jobs nationwide, generating an economic benefit of nearly $32billion annually.
"If ultimately appropriated, this public-access funding will serve as anotherweapon in our arsenal as we continue to work on behalf of our nation's huntingand shooting heritage," Keane said.
On another front, the NSSF has filed a motion to intervene in the frivolouslawsuit brought by the anti-hunting Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) andsix other organizations to force the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) toban traditional ammunition containing lead components.
By intervening in the case, NSSF seeks to ensure that the interests of thefirearms and ammunition industry are protected and to ensure that hunters andtarget shooters still will be able to select the ammunition of their choice.
"A ban on traditional ammunition would have devastating consequences for ourindustry, hunters, target shooters and all firearm owners, and wildlifeconservation funding," Keane said.
The EPA already has twice denied petitions filed by CBD to ban traditionalammunition, noting correctly that it does not have the legal authority toregulate traditional ammunition under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).The EPA denied the CBD's petition earlier this year. CBD's original petition wasrejected by the EPA in August of 2010.