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Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act Makes Progress

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The Sportsmen’s Act of 2015 builds on last year’s bipartisan legislation, which had 46 cosponsors and is supported by nearly 50 national sportsmen’s conservation groups. The bill includes updates of all of last year’s provisions plus some additional provisions that increase access to federal lands for the benefit of sportsmen and women. In a testimony before the Committee in March, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation President Jeff Crane spoke in favor of the bill on behalf of the sportsmen’s community. “Conservation, hunting, angling, recreational shooting, and our outdoor traditions are not defined by or constrained to any partisan label. We are sportsmen and women because we care about America’s great outdoors, regardless of political affiliation,” said Crane.

Why is this a big deal? If you have followed this column for long, the Sportsmen’s Act has been in the legislative sausage maker for several years. Each year it is typically introduced in the House with a companion bill in the Senate. The House passes its version by a floor vote and sends it to the cooling saucer of the Senate where it usually dies in committee. This year it has made it out of committee and unless there is much resistance should go to conference with the House to iron out differences and then come up to a vote.

With our hunting and fishing privileges under constant attack from animal rights, anti-gun, and environmental groups this legislation, if passed and signed by the President, will insure our hunting and shooting privileges on public lands are not only protected, but also become a priority for management on those same lands. Maybe this will give our local Forest Service the impetus needed to better manage for wildlife habitat.

I attended the Forest Service meeting on the Pisgah/Nantahala Plan this past week. First let me say I think the location, UNC-A campus, was a set up to encourage participation by environmental groups and college students since the topic was on additional Wilderness designation. Of the approximate 150 attendees I’d guess that only 10 percent were hunters. The Forest Service spent the first hour going over background information about the planning process and explaining how they determined what areas were eligible for Wilderness or Wild and Scenic River designation. Basically, those criteria are established by federal law.

The second hour was an opportunity to look at the maps and ask Forest Service personnel questions about the proposals. The bottom line for Wilderness designation is using the criteria required by law the planners have identified a total of 362,000 additional acres that are eligible for inclusion. With over 300 thousand already in special designation that means potentially nearly two-thirds of the total forest area could be Wilderness. Some of these areas are familiar to me as good hunting areas and are frequent hunting grounds for a number of mountain hunters.

I don’t want to throw a scare into everyone because there is very little likelihood that most of this area will be designated. In fact, with Congressional approval required, my guess is that none of it will be. Just can’t see our current congressional designation supporting any of it. With all the wildfires out west eating up the Forest Service budget, increased management is being seen as the way to reduce spending and improve the health of the forest.

I heard one comment at the meeting that really tripped my circuit breaker. Someone said they supported Wilderness “for the benefit of wildlife.” Here is my question for them: Do you believe in man-made global climate change? If the answer is yes, then why? If the answer to that is scientific data then you are a hypocrite. You believe in 20 years of climate change data but deny 100 years of wildlife habitat research paid for by hunters that says a managed forest is best for wildlife. I’ve said this before: There is no scientific evidence that a contiguous mature forest stand is beneficial to all wildlife.

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