Mont.'s Tester to introduce conservation, hunting bills


by Phil Taylor

Montana Sen. Jon Tester (D) said he plans to introduce a series of bills to conserve wild lands, promote recreational access and prevent U.S. EPA from banning certain types of ammunition and fishing tackle.

Tester, who is chairman of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus, said over the weekend that he plans to introduce a bill in the coming days that would ensure federal conservation funds are spent to improve public access to federal lands and promote hunting and angling opportunities in his state.

The bill would require the Interior and Agriculture departments to devote at least $10 million each year from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to opening up access to existing public lands.

The fund is the main vehicle to purchase new lands, conserve others and assist states in promoting urban recreation. It has been used to purchase lands around Plum Creek and protect habitat along the Rocky Mountain Front, Tester said.

"We've all heard stories of how people can't get to cherished lands that they used to, because now those lands are surrounded by private land with closed gates," Tester said during a speech to a hunters and anglers group in Missoula, Mont.

Tester said hunters and anglers contribute $200 billion to the U.S. economy, including $3.2 billion and thousands of jobs in Montana alone.

He also took a swipe at House Republicans who voted in February for a spending bill that would gut LWCF from its current funding level of about $480 million.

"The House's unpopular bill, H.R. 1, cuts nearly $400 million from current LWCF levels," Tester said. "That essentially wipes out the entire initiative."

Alan Rowsome, director of conservation funding for the Wilderness Society, said LWCF has been used for years to promote access for hunters and anglers. Tester's bill, he added, would ensure entry to areas such as remote streams that are cordoned off by restricted lands and would help purchase parcels to provide better road access to trails, waterways or important hunting sites.

"We're very supportive of LWCF money going to hunting and angling access projects because they are a critical part of our recreation economy," he said.

Tester said he will also introduce a bill clarifying that U.S. EPA does not have the authority to regulate ammunition and fishing tackle under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

The bill would prevent petitions filed by environmental groups to have EPA ban or restrict the use of lead bullets or fishing tackle. EPA rejected such a petition in August and November last year, to the chagrin of the American Bird Conservancy, the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups (E&ENews PM, Nov. 4, 2010).

Three groups sued EPA last November to force it to restrict lead ammunition and fishing tackle under the 34-year-old toxic substances law (E&ENews PM, Nov. 23, 2010).

The bill likely will be well-received by the American Sportfishing Association, the National Rifle Association and state agencies that regulate hunting.

Tester said he will also introduce a bill to permanently extend tax credits for landowners who place conservation easements on their property and another bill called the "Hunting Heritage Protection Act," which requires federal land to be open to hunting unless a statue says it is restricted.

Extending tax credits for landowners to put their lands into easements was a recommendation of the Obama administration's Great Outdoors Initiative and carries the support of conservation groups, Rowsome said.

A final bill from Tester would create a national voluntary grant program to assist local groups in improving and conserving fish habitat and water quality.
Wilderness bill

Tester also said he would continue to fight for passage of his "Forest Jobs and Recreation Act," a bill that would pair more than 600,000 acres of new wilderness designations in Montana with quotas to harvest timber on 100,000 acres. The proposal carries the unlikely support of most environmental groups and the timber industry in the state.

The bill has become a wedge issue in Tester's upcoming re-election bid against Montana Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg, who has argued a majority of Montanans oppose the bill and that it was crafted behind closed doors.

Tester in the past has suggested that Rehberg is opposing the bill because he wants his Senate seat.

"Some folks have spent the last year and a half trying to tear it down," he said. "Not because of the bill itself. But simply because it has my name on it."