Sportsmen's Bill Up for Another Run Through Congress

Legislation passes committee, would make federal land 'open unless closed' for hunting

Monday, July 10, 2017

By Mark Carter

The Sportsmen's Bill is making another run through Congress, and it's off to a good start.

The 2017 version of the legislative package, which officially classifies public land as "open unless closed" for hunting and sport shooting, has passed through committee and currently awaits a vote on the Senate floor.

The bipartisan bill, S. 733, enjoys wide bipartisan support. Lead sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), it features 15 co-sponsors, eight Democrats and seven Republicans representing states from the South, Midwest and West, several of them members of the influential Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus (CSC). It eased through the Senate's Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which Murkowski chairs.

The bill was introduced last year as well, advancing individually through the House and Senate but ultimately stalling in joint House-Senate committee. 

Sen. Lisa Murkowski

Not only would the bill declare all federal land open to hunting, fishing and recreational shooting unless closed to such activities by the managing agency, but it would lift a National Park Service prohibition on bows and crossbows on NPS land and allow shooting ranges on public land managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

It also would:

  • Establish the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council Advisory Committee to advise the Agriculture and Interior departments on matters pertaining to wildlife, habitat conservation, hunting and recreational shooting.
  • Create the Hunt Unrestricted on National Treasures (HUNT) Act, expanding access on publc land for hunting and other outdoor activities.
  • Increase the ability of states to use Pittman-Robertson funds for construction and maintenance public shooting ranges.
  • Require NPS, BLM, the Forest Service and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to publish lists of public land within their jurisdictions that is (1) open to hunting, fishing and other recreational uses; (2) not accessible to the public or has restricted public entry; (3) is at least 640 acres in size. 
  • Require the noted agencies to make this information available twice a year over 10 years and also report on possible expansion of public entry and exit points on federal land. 
  • Create an online public database of information on court cases against the U.S. government.
  • Expand access to federal land for film crews of three people or fewer.

 

Murkowski called the bill an important first step in turning these "hunting priorities" into law.

“For too long, sportsmen’s access to our federal lands has been restricted without reason or transparency,” she said. “Our bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act will ensure that our federal lands are open unless closed, provide new opportunities for more Americans to enjoy those lands, and require federal agencies to expand and enhance access in accordance with their missions.”

Many prominent hunting and outdoors organizations are supporting the bill, which ultimately stalled in 2016, victim of a tumultuous election season that deflected priorities elsewhere. This year, however, the political environment has hunters optimistic.   

“The bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act will help ensure that our nation’s hunting, fishing and shooting traditions are preserved, protected and promoted,” said Lawrence G. Keane, senior vice president and general counsel for the National Sport Shooting Federation, said in a statement. “This legislation addresses many priorities for American hunters, anglers and recreational shooters and its reintroduction in the Senate and immediate committee hearing is representative of the commitment these senators and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus shares for the sportsmen’s community and for America.”

CSC members signed on as sponsors include Murkowski and Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), Deb Fischer (R-Nebraska) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota).