Tester Sportsmen's Act clears key hurdle
(U.S. SENATE) - Dysfunction in Washington isn't stopping Senator Jon Tester's "once in a generation" sportsmen's bill from receiving a vote on the Senate floor.
Tester's Sportsmen's Act will be the first piece of legislation taken up by the Senate when it returns in November. The bill, which cleared a key procedural hurdle today - on National Hunting and Fishing Day - on a bipartisan vote of 84 to 7 increases access for hunting and fishing, supports land and species conservation, and protects hunting and fishing rights.
"Sportsmen and women are calling for a responsible, bipartisan plan that takes ideas from Republicans and Democrats to preserve our outdoor economy and secure our outdoor heritage for our kids and grandkids - and this proposal does just that," said Tester, Chairman of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus.
"Washington needs to put politics aside and pass this bill for America's 90 million sportsmen and women," Tester added.
Tester's bill is supported by 56 different conservation and wildlife groups, ranging from the National Rifle Association to The Nature Conservancy. It sets aside funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to increase public land access, reauthorizes the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, and funds new shooting ranges.
"The National Shooting Sports Foundation is pleased the Senate has taken an important step toward final passage of the Sportsmen's Act of 2012 - legislation that will promote, protect and preserve our nation's hunting and shooting sports heritage for future generations," said Lawrence Keane, National Shooting Sports Foundation senior vice president and general counsel. "We commend the bipartisan leadership of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus, especially co-chairman Senator Tester, on their tireless efforts to shepherd these historic sportsmen's bills through the Senate. We look forward to the Senate expeditiously passing this legislation after the November elections so that the most significant sportsmen's legislation in a generation can be signed into law."
"These bipartisan bills are important and diverse in the support they provide natural resource conservation," said Paul Schmidt, Ducks Unlimited's chief conservation officer. "Some of the most important programs for waterfowl, including reauthorization of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the Permanent Electronic Duck Stamp Act, are part of this package. It's encouraging to see that people can work across the aisle when it comes to our natural resources, and Ducks Unlimited appreciates the work that Senator Tester and the sponsors have put into this important legislation."
In a speech on the Senate floor this week, Tester reminded his colleagues that hunting and fishing are not just recreation for Montanans, but also critical parts of the economy.
"In Montana, hunting and fishing brings in $1 billion a year to our economy, nearly as much as the state's cattle industry," Tester said. "It drives and sustains jobs. And with bow hunting season open and rifle season opening in a few days, this bill is as timely as ever."
Tester's bipartisan bill, which would reduce the deficit by $7 million, also authorizes the Interior Secretary to reevaluate the price of duck stamps to keep up with the price of inflation. Revenue from duck stamps has been used to purchase or lease more than six million acres of wetlands.
Tester's remarks on the Senate floor are below.
Floor remarks - Sportsmen's Bill
U.S. Senator Jon Tester
September 19, 2012
As Prepared for Delivery
Mr. President, I rise today to discuss my bipartisan Sportsmen's Act.
America's outdoor traditions are a deep and important part of our heritage. That is why two years ago, when I became Chair of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus, I made it my goal to do something significant - something historic - for this country's hunters and anglers.
Mr. President, this week, we have that opportunity.
My Sportsmen's Act is the biggest package of sportsmen's bills in a generation.
It combines nearly 20 different bills - all important to the sportsmen's community.
These bills increase access for recreational hunting and fishing. They support land and species conservation. And they protect our hunting and fishing rights.
And, most importantly, they take ideas from both sides of the political aisle.
This bill isn't about Democrats. It isn't about Republicans. Or Independents. This bill is about Americans. And the great outdoors we all share as a nation.
This bipartisan bill is supported by 56 different conservation and wildlife groups, ranging from The Nature Conservancy and the National Wildlife Federation to the NRA.
It earned their endorsement because it includes a wide range of responsible provisions that are important to sportsmen and women across America.
Mr. President, in my role as the Chairman of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus, sportsmen constantly tell me about the importance of access to public lands.
Right now, there are 35 million acres of public land sportsmen can't access.
That's why this bill requires that one-point-five percent of annual funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund is set aside to increase public land access - ensuring sportsmen access to some of the best places to hunt and fish in the country.
My bill also reauthorizes the North American Wetlands Conservation Act. This voluntary initiative provides matching grants to land-owners who set aside critical habitat for migratory birds like ducks.
Over the last twenty years, volunteers across America have completed more than 2,000 conservation projects and protected more than 26 million acres of habitat under this successful initiative.
The North American Wetlands Conservation Act is a smart investment in both our lands and our wildlife - and it needs to be reauthorized.
My widely-supported bill also authorizes the Secretary of Interior to reevaluate the price of duck stamps to keep up with inflation. Revenue from duck stamps has been used to purchase or lease more than 6 million acres of wetlands, preserving a viable waterfowl population.
And it funds new shooting ranges while encouraging federal land agencies to cooperate with state and local authorities to maintain existing ranges.
This is a responsible bill that takes into account the needs of the entire sportsmen's community.
Now, some folks around Washington are asking why this is important, but hunting and fishing is a way of life in places like Montana. One in three Montanans hunt big game and over 50 percent fish. And outdoor recreation contributed 646 billion dollars in direct spending to the U.S. economy last year.
Hunting and fishing is NOT just recreation - it is a critical part of our economy. In Montana, hunting and fishing brings one billion dollars a year to our economy, nearly as much as the state's cattle industry.
It drives and sustains jobs. And with bow hunting season open and rifle season opening in a few days, this bill is as timely as ever.
Mr. President, the Sportsmen's Act of 2012 is balanced, it's bipartisan, and it's widely supported. It's also fiscally-responsible: the bill has no cost.
I've been Chairman of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus for two years.
In that time, I've had folks from all across the country tell me why they love to hunt and fish. They've also told me how outdoor activities support our economy and create new jobs while sustaining old ones.
But they've also told me how much their outdoor heritage means to their families, and about how concerned they are about losing those traditions.
And frankly, they've told me how frustrated they are with Washington. And how too many good ideas - ideas from both parties - get left behind because of gridlock here.
Mr. President, by approving this sportsmen's package, we will conserve some of our most productive habitat, pass on our hunting and fishing traditions to future generations, and entrust the land and water we share - to them.
Sportsmen from across the West have been waiting for a bill like this for a generation. A bill with widespread support that preserves our outdoor economy and secures our outdoor heritage for our children and grandchildren.
I know it's getting close to election season. But in the time we have left - the time that we are working on the taxpayer's dime - let's get something done.
Let's take some good Democratic ideas and some good Republican ideas and pass them. Let's actually DO something for the 90 million sportsmen and women in this country and for our economy.
The time is now, Mr. President. I urge all members to support this bill, and I yield the floor.