The Senate has just passed a comprehensive energy reform bill that includes key conservation provisions to benefit fish, wildlife, and sportsmen’s access. This is a true bipartisan achievement that highlights our uniquely American conservation values.
“Sportsmen’s groups, including the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and virtually all of our partners, have been working for years to pass comprehensive legislation that enhances access and conserves vital habitat,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the TRCP. “This bill succeeds on both measures, and hunters and anglers should applaud its passage as an indication that enthusiasm for conservation is very much alive in Washington.”
“The Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015” would permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a critical program for enhancing public access to the outdoors. It also includes a provision known as “Making Public Lands Public,” which specifies that 1.5 percent of LWCF dollars are to be used to establish and expand recreational access to national public lands, in particular.
“Permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund means we never again have to experience uncertainty for the program,” says Bethany Erb, a Mule Deer Foundation board member. “Over the past 50 years, the LWCF has enhanced public access for hunters and urban families alike, and the ‘Making Public Lands Public’ provision would ensure that improvements for outdoor recreation—a robust driver of spending—are adequately funded.”
This is the first energy reform legislation passed in the upper chamber in nine years—a feat in itself—but hunters and anglers are especially pleased to see that many elements of the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015 (S.405) have finally found a way forward through an amendment offered by Senators Lisa Murkowksi (R-Alaska) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) It passed 97-0 yesterday.
The amendment permanently reauthorizes the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act, “a critical conservation tool for Western lands,” says Larry Selzer, president and CEO of The Conservation Fund. “We applaud this bipartisan action to advance the permanent authorization of FLTFA, which uses proceeds from strategic federal land sales to protect high priority federal conservation areas that preserve important fish and wildlife habitat, increase recreational opportunities, and protect our nation’s special places.” Prior to its expiration in 2011, FLTFA leveraged strategic federal land sales to fund 39 priority conservation projects, including many that expanded sportsmen’s access to world-class hunting and fishing opportunities.
The amendment also reauthorizes the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), a grant program through which each federal dollar invested is matched an average of three times over by non-federal dollars. “These investments have major on-the-ground impacts for the management and conservation of wetlands for waterfowl and other wildlife,” says John Devney, vice president of U.S. policy for Delta Waterfowl. “In the prairie potholes region, for example, NAWCA dollars could mean the difference between the protection of grasslands and wetlands and the disappearance of key breeding habitats in the Duck Factory.”
Recreational anglers would also get a boost from the amendment, which authorizes the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act. The program was created to foster partnerships that improve conditions for fish species and enhance recreational fishing opportunities. “The National Fish Habitat Conservation Act brings together state and federal agencies as well as conservation organizations to better coordinate watershed restoration activities,” says Steve Moyer, vice president for government affairs at Trout Unlimited. “It’s really just a commonsense approach to restore and protect fish habitat, that also creates great opportunities for the angling community. We’re thrilled to see it be approved by the Senate.”
The energy reform package must now be reconciled with the House bill (H.R. 8), which was passed in December 2015, and sent to the president’s desk before the end of this Congress.