WASHINGTON — The House is expected to vote on legislation after Congress returns from the summer recess to protect sportsmen’s access to federal land and block future lawsuits by anti-hunting groups.
The Recreational Fishing and Hunting Heritage and Opportunities Act would establish fishing, hunting and recreational shooting as legitimate activities on federal property managed by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Dan Benishek (R-Michigan) and cosponsored by Colorado Republican Reps. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) and Scott Tipton (R-Cortez).
The measure was passed by the House Resources Committee in June on a 28-15 vote and is expected to clear the House with bipartisan support. However, he bill faces stiff opposition in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
“We need to ensure that our children and grandchildren are able to enjoy hunting and fishing on federal lands forever,” Benishek said in announcing his legislation.
The bill has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association and the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, and would guarantee access to 193 million acres of Forest Service land plus 245 million acres managed by the BLM.
The federal agencies would not be obligated to consider the status of sporting recreation on nearby or adjacent property when making future decisions on hunting, fishing and shooting on public lands.
The legislation also ensures that wilderness areas remain open to the sporting activities, as well as the training of hunting dogs. The bill would also allow the leasing of federal lands to construct shooting ranges.
A key provision noted by the Sportsmen’s Alliance is the “Open Until Closed” language, which requires specific steps to close the land for demonstrable reasons, such as a forest fire, and protections against future lawsuits to ban hunting and fishing on federal property.
“It’s high time that Congress put a stop to frivolous lawsuits brought by the anti-hunting lobby and the ‘Open Until Closed’ language will do just that,” Bill Horn, director of federal affairs for the alliance said in a statement.
“American sportsmen and women are fed up with having to fight lawsuit after lawsuit just to access public lands. We urge Congress to move this critical legislation quickly,” Horn said.
The bill prevents the sudden closure of lands to recreational hunting, fishing and shooting without public knowledge and requires scientific support to back up the decision.
The federal agencies would be required to reevaluate the effects of their management plans on sporting recreation in order to protect that public access and to find new ways to encourage those activities.
The bill requires written notice to Congress before the agencies can restrict more than 1,200 acres to recreation, and confirms the primary authority of state officials to manage wildlife on federal land.
The legislation does not open the Wilderness Act to any previously prohibited activities such as road construction or the use of motorized or mechanized equipment or vehicles.