Sportsmen’s bill hits rough waters

Environmental, gun-control issues chill Udall measure

WASHINGTON, D.C. – By all accounts Monday, the widely supported bipartisan hunting and fishing bill seemed to be sailing through the usually gridlocked Senate.

But after an all-day delay Tuesday, hurdles coming from amendments either strengthening or weakening gun regulations had cooled the momentum.

The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act would allow increased access to federal lands for hunting and fishing, allow states greater flexibility to use funds collected from taxes on ammunition and sporting equipment to maintain shooting ranges, and continue funding for wetlands conservation.

The legislation is largely seen as a win-win for Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and other vulnerable Senate Democrats facing re-election in November.

But not all Democrats are on board. From the beginning, Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Christopher Murphy, both Connecticut Democrats, opposed the measure they said would encourage gun use when Congress has done nothing to pass gun-control legislation.

“I can’t vote for a measure that makes owning or possessing or using guns more readily or easily usable when we have failed to act on commonsense, sensible measures that will stop gun violence,” Blumenthal said.

The bill is opposed by Gun Owners of America, which called the legislation a “slimy scheme” by Democrats in red states to trick gun owners. In a statement on its website, the group said it looked to pro-gun amendments from Sen. Mike Lee R-Utah, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

Amendments from each side of the aisle could come as bill killers.

Sen. John Tester, D-Mont., said there was “too much in this bill we agree on to let it fall away” and hoped that Republicans and Democrats would not let “political gamesmanship get in the way” of passage.

The battle over gun control isn’t the only stumbling block. Environmental groups oppose two provisions – a measure that would block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating lead in ammunition or fishing tackle and another that would allow hunters to import polar bear carcasses that were killed in Canada before the bears were federally protected.

If the bill passes, it could be good for local economies. In Colorado, hunting and fishing is a $1.8 billion-a-year industry that supports 21,000 jobs, according to a report for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Land Tawney, executive director of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, said the bill offers more certainty for hunters and anglers.

Under the 1960 Multiple Use and Sustained Yield Act, national forests must be “administered for outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, and wildlife and fish purposes.” Of the wildlife recreation activities allowed, hunting and fishing aren’t specifically identified, though Tawney says a provision in the new bill could change that.

“This specifically spells it out, and clarifies that hunting and fishing are appropriate uses on federal lands,” Tawney says. “It ensures that we have opportunities going forward.”

Another provision, coined “Making Public Lands Public,” would ensure funding available for greater access to public lands that are surrounded by private land or are hard to reach through rights of way or acquisition of private lands from willing sellers.

“Anytime you open up more federal land for public use, it helps our business because it gives us more options to send people places they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to go,” said Michael Johnson, a guide for Duranglers Flies & Supplies.

The Senate will vote on whether to proceed with the bill this afternoon.

Udall, a bill co-sponsor, urged the Senate to pass it.

“Our sportsmen and outdoor recreation economy create jobs and support Colorado’s special way of life and Western heritage,” Udall said in a statement. “The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act is essential to preserving our outdoor heritage.”

Mary Bowerman is graduate student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.

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