"Access to public lands is the number one issue for America's sportsmen and women."
So says Senator Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) in the introduction to S. 556, the Bipartisan Sportsmen's Act, which is being received by the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources March 12, in Washington.
The committee will be reviewing at least 14 measures in the package, including the HUNT Act (sec. 202), which, according to the outline, "Directs all federal public land management agencies to identify high priority federal lands where hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation are permitted but where access is non-existent or significantly restricted, and develop plans to provide access."
The bill, introduced last February by Heinrich and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), is notable for its strong bipartisan support. It is hoped that this proposal will not suffer the same fate that previous, similar bills met when politics and budget considerations stymied their progress.
The Bipartisan Sportsmen's Act, if approved, will substantially increase access to federal lands that up to now have been restricted in their use by hunters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts. Heinrich lamented, "You have land that taxpayers own, you know, that is my kids' birthright. You can't even get on it."
His sentiment was echoed by Murkowski, who sees the bill as a solution, "The bipartisan legislation we introduced today will help ensure that our grandchildren have the same opportunities to hunt and fish as we did growing up."
A bipartisan group of co-sponsors of the bill - two Republicans and two Democrats - includes Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), who said, "Whether sportsmen and sportswomen go hunting or fishing to put food on the table, or for sport, or to pass down a tradition to their family, or for game management purposes, there is something in the Sportsmen's Act of 2015 for all of them." He continued, "Hunting and fishing give us a great reason to be in the great outdoors, a great reason to hand down traditions, and a great reason to support this legislation."
The hearing on the bill included witnesses and officials from the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation, and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. It is hoped that the bill will pass through the committee and reach the floor of the Senate in the next few weeks. Sportsmen and other outdoor recreation enthusiasts are keeping their fingers crossed that this legislation passes without a hitch.