Tester pitches Sportsmen’s Act

Great Falls Tribune

by Malia Rulon Herman

WASHINGTON — Sen. Jon Tester introduced Thursday the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012, a fully loaded bill aimed at enhancing fishing and hunting in Montana and elsewhere through a variety of measures.

A key provision in the bill would make sure that the public can access public lands by setting aside 1.5 percent of annual Land and Water Conservation Fund money to buy land or create rights-of-way entrances.

“When I talk to hunters and fishers, their biggest concern is access to public lands,” Tester, D-Mont., told reporters on a conference call Thursday.

The bill also would set aside additional funding for the creation and maintenance of shooting ranges on public land, allow for the importation of legally killed polar bears from Canada, and permit bows to be transported across National Park lands.

Hunters are allowed to transport firearms across National Park land but not bows, which creates a problem for bow hunters who must cross National Park land to reach Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management land where bow hunting is allowed.

The bill does not include the controversial House-passed Sportsmen’s Heritage Act, which would have opened the door to hunting and fishing on all public land unless barred, Tester said.

However, the bill does prohibit the government from barring individuals from carrying firearms in Army Corps of Engineer Water Resource Development projects or facilities.

It also excludes ammo and fishing tackle from the Toxic Substances Control Act, meaning that the Environmental Protection Agency can’t regulate it.

“This is a big deal,” Tester said of the package, which includes nearly 20 provisions in total, many of them bipartisan. “If we get it through, I think it’s a real step in the right direction. It’s an incredible issue for our economy in a state like Montana.”

On the conservation side, the bill would prohibit the sale of Pacific-caught billfish (marlin, sailfish and spearfish) in all states except Hawaii and create a national voluntary grant program to protect and improve fish habitat by improving water quality. Billfish populations have declined severely due to overfishing for foreign fleets.

It would extend other programs that promote habitat restoration and protection, such as the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program and North American Wetlands Conservation Act.

The bill also would continue the Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps and make the electronic duck stamp pilot program permanent. Eight states are participating in the pilot program, which allows duck hunters to buy the stamps online and carry the receipt with them until the stamp arrives in the mail.

Tester and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who are cochairman of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, introduced the bill together.

Tester said he’s received assurances from Senate leadership that the bill would be added to the farm bill, which is pending in the Senate. He said he expects the bill will get broad support in the closely divided Senate.

Tester is running against Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., for the U.S. Senate. Rehberg also is a member of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus.