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Hunters And Anglers Rejoice

Funds now tabled for Gulf restoration while bill will help hunters access public lands

By: From OutdoorChannel.com Press Services

Two separate actions in Washington, D.C., on Thursday have the fishing and hunting communities applauding.

Members of the Transportation Bill conference committee reached a compromise that includes two measures, the RESTORE the Gulf Coast Act and reauthorization of the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, that together, will have a significant impact on fisheries conservation and habitat enhancement in the United States.

Also, the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee approved the fiscal year 2013 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill that includes $7.5 million to expand and enhance access for hunting, fishing and recreational shooting on U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands.

The bipartisan, bicameral agreement on the Transportation Bill reauthorization is drawing high praise from the nation’s sportfishing industry and the broader recreational fishing community.

“The importance of this agreement to recreational fishing across the country, and in the Gulf of Mexico region in particular, cannot be overstated,” said American Sportfishing Association (ASA) Vice President Gordon Robertson. “We are extremely grateful that the members of the conference committee were able to reach a compromise that will benefit our nation’s fisheries resources and the anglers who enjoy them for years to come.”

The conference report for the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, commonly known as the Highway Transportation Bill, includes nearly-identical language to the RESTORE the Gulf Coast Act as reported out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in September, 2011.

The bill directs 80 percent of the Clean Water Act penalties charged to BP as a result of the April 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill to the restoration of the Gulf Coast environment and economy. Without Congressional action, these penalties, which are estimated to be between $5.4 and $21.1 billion, would go into the general treasury instead of toward Gulf recovery.

The majority of these funds will be distributed to the five Gulf Coast states and the newly established Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council for economic and environmental restoration projects throughout the Gulf of Mexico region, such as wetlands restoration, construction of boat ramps and tourism promotion.

Of particular importance to fisheries management, the RESTORE Act also establishes a program that will provide funding for needed fisheries stock assessments and data collection in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Many Members of Congress played significant roles in supporting the RESTORE Act, but ASA particularly thanks the leadership of Senators Landrieu (D-La.), Nelson (D-Fla.) and Shelby (R-Ala.) and Representative Scalise (R-La.) for seeing this through to the finish,” said Robertson. “Without their dedicated efforts to ensure that the RESTORE Act remained in the Transportation Bill, it could have easily been left out.”

A separate section of the Transportation Bill reauthorizes the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, commonly known as the Wallop-Breaux Act, which directs hundreds of millions of dollars annually to state fish and wildlife agencies' fishing and boating programs.

Funds for this important program are collected largely from the federal manufacturers excise taxes on fishing equipment and the motorboat fuel tax. The program had to be authorized as part of the Transportation Bill in order to capture the revenue from that part of the federal fuel tax attributable to motor boat and small engine use.

“Through the Sport Fish Restoration program, the sportfishing industry provides the backbone of fisheries management and conservation funding in this country,” Robertson said. “In these lean fiscal times, all federal programs are at risk, but ASA and our partners have diligently worked to ensure that the success and vitality of this program will remain secure.”

The National Shooting Sports Foundation® (NSSF®) along with partner organizations such as the Boone and Crockett Club, NRA, the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation and others have worked on provision with the Appropriations Committee. If included in the final appropriations measure, the funding will allow the Forest Service and BLM to acquire rights-of-way and other land interests from willing-seller landowners to open access to existing federal lands for hunting and fishing where it is closed or significantly restricted.

"The biggest challenge facing hunters and shooters is diminishing access to public lands. This important appropriations provision addresses this challenge head-on, and the NSSF is deeply grateful to Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers and Interior Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson for championing this cause," said Larry Keane, senior vice president and general counsel of NSSF, the trade association for the firearms, ammunition, hunting and shooting sports industry.

Boone and Crockett Club Chairman Bob Model praised Chairman Simpson for "his longstanding and deep commitment to enhancing hunting opportunities on our public lands."

For the 32 million American hunters, anglers and recreational shooters, federal public lands are increasingly vital to their participation in outdoor sports. Nearly half of all hunters, for example, pursue their passion on public lands. Reduced access is repeatedly cited as the primary reason that hunters, anglers and recreational shooters stop participating in these sports.

A 2004 report to the House Committee on Appropriations concluded that more than 35 million acres of BLM and Forest Service land have inadequate access. Specifically, nearly 2 million acres (or 10 percent) of Forest Service lands in Montana and 8.4 million acres (or 29 percent) of BLM lands in the Montana/Dakotas region were identified as having inadequate access.

Sportsmen and women make important contributions to both wildlife conservation and the nation's economy. The hunting and shooting sports industry creates 210,000 jobs nationwide, generating an economic benefit of nearly $32 billion annually.

"If ultimately appropriated, this public-access funding will serve as another weapon in our arsenal as we continue to work on behalf of our nation's hunting and shooting heritage," Keane said.

On another front, the NSSF has filed a motion to intervene in the frivolous lawsuit brought by the anti-hunting Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and six other organizations to force the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban traditional ammunition containing lead components.

By intervening in the case, NSSF seeks to ensure that the interests of the firearms and ammunition industry are protected and to ensure that hunters and target shooters still will be able to select the ammunition of their choice.

"A ban on traditional ammunition would have devastating consequences for our industry, hunters, target shooters and all firearm owners, and wildlife conservation funding," Keane said.

The EPA already has twice denied petitions filed by CBD to ban traditional ammunition, noting correctly that it does not have the legal authority to regulate traditional ammunition under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The EPA denied the CBD's petition earlier this year. CBD's original petition was rejected by the EPA in August of 2010.

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