Time to finish the job for public lands

By Corey Fisher

Shortly after convening the 116th Congress, the House of Representatives passed a new rules package. This is standard practice – the majority party always adopt new rules to govern the chamber in a new Congress – but one provision stands out as an early win for public lands.  

In 2017, at the start of the last Congress, the House of Representatives passed a rules package with a provision proposed by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) to make land transfers “budget neutral," essentially greasing the skids for future public land disposal bills by creating a procedural loophole. 

Hunters and anglers decried the move, sending a letter signed by 20 groups opposing the new rule. In a reversal, this year’s rule package passed by the new majority did not include the policy, thereby increasing transparency and ensuring that Congress accurately accounts for the true costs of disposing of America’s public lands.  

This is a good start and telegraphs a commitment from the House of Representatives to be ca strong advocate for public lands and sportsmen and women. That said, there is a lot of unfinished business from last year that Congress should make a priority and tackle early in the new year.  

First up should be the public lands package that died late last year, but has been reintroduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA). The proposal, called the Natural Resources Management Act, bundles together dozens of bipartisan proposals that were agreed to by both chambers of Congress. 

Importantly, the package of bills would permanently authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which expired on Sept. 30, 2018. LWCF is a critical program for preserving public lands. The program provides funding to secure fishing access to famous fisheries like the Madison River in Montana, Letort Spring Run in Pennsylvania and the Brule River in Wisconsin and many others. LWCF is also the primary funding source to acquire and conserve new public lands that are essential for sustaining our outdoor traditions and protecting fish and wildlife habitat.   

In addition to LWCF reauthorization, numerous bipartisan provisions would increase protection for special places, including mineral withdrawals on the doorstep of Yellowstone National Park in Montana and the upper Methow Valley in Washington, 76 miles of Wild and Scenic River additions in California and 250 miles in Oregon, 30,000 acres of new Wilderness for the Devil’s Staircase in southwest Oregon, and enact much needed authorizations to advance multi-stakeholder, basin-scale restoration efforts in Washinton’s Yakima Basin. Lastly, the bill would honor WWII veteran Frank Moore by protecting 100,000 acres of his beloved Steamboat Creek watershed, an important salmon and steelhead spawning tributary to the North Umpqua River in Oregon.  

With all of these proposals garnering bi-partisan support and nearly passing at the end of last year, Congress needs to finish the job and immediately pass this package of public land bills. After clearing the deck, they can then tackle issues like passing Good Samaritan legislation to support clean up abandoned mines, ensuring robust funding for public land management agencies, fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund, increasing transparency and public involvement in public lands energy development, passing the Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act.  

It's a new Congress and while there are many issues demanding the attention of our elected officials, they are well positioned to make great strides for our public land hunting and fishing heritage by passing this turnkey legislation. That is a new year’s resolution that should be easy to keep.   

For more information, contact me.   

Make your voice heard, visit standup.tu.org to take action today.  

Corey Fisher is TU's public lands policy director. He lives and works in Missoula, Mont. 


Add Content