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Murkowski, Manchin Introduce Bill to Protect Hunting Rights on Federal Lands

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, today introduced legislation to ensure the rights of recreational hunters, fishermen and shooters on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service lands.

“Instead of further empowering federal officials, this bill will mandate cooperation by federal agencies with state fish and wildlife agencies regarding resident wildlife on BLM and Forest Service lands,” Senator Murkowski said. “Our bill preserves Americans’ right to enjoy their lands from repeated attempts to limit access.”

“As Governor, and now as Senator from the great state of West Virginia, I have always sought to preserve and enhance the tradition of hunting that is so important to our state and its people,” Senator Manchin said. “This commonsense bill would ensure that America’s outdoorsmen can continue to hunt and fish on our beautiful lands.”

The Recreational Fishing and Hunting Heritage and Opportunities Act protects the public right to engage in recreational hunting, fishing and shooting on federal lands. It mandates that BLM and Forest Service managed lands be open to recreational hunting, fishing and shooting unless specifically closed by the agencies. The bill also supports Executive Order 13443, which directs federal land management agencies to facilitate the expansion and enhancement of hunting on federal lands, and ensures sound scientific management of wildlife and their habitat.

This bill is the Senate companion to H.R. 2834, which was introduced by Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Michigan, in September with 45 bipartisan co-sponsors.

FACT SHEET: Recreational Fishing and Hunting Heritage and Opportunities Act

OBJECTIVE:  To recognize the rightful place of recreational hunting, fishing, and shooting on Federal lands; to support Executive Order 13443 that directs Federal land management agencies to facilitate the expansion and enhancement of hunting on Federal lands; and to ensure sound scientific management of wildlife and their habitat.

PROVISIONS:

  • Establishes an “open unless closed” policy for recreational hunting, fishing and shooting on lands managed by the US Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). 
  • Retains the discretion of Federal land management agencies to establish closures or restrictions, pursuant to all existing legal authorities, where and when the agencies determine that such closures or restrictions are appropriate or necessary.
  • Directs management of Federal public lands to facilitate the use of and access to these lands for recreational hunting, fishing and shooting with certain exceptions such as for national security and within the limitations of other Federal statutes.
  • Requires that recreational hunting, fishing and shooting be addressed in land management plans lands in order to protect public access and to encourage proactive management of these activities.
  • Prevents the sudden closure of lands to recreational hunting, fishing and shooting without public knowledge or input or when lacking sound scientific support.
  • Requires that written notice be given to the authorizing Congressional committees and the public and that coordination with state fish and wildlife agencies occurs before a Federal land management action closes or restricts 1,280 or more contiguous acres (or the aggregate of small closures) to recreational hunting or fishing or both. 
  • Removes ambiguity about requirements imposed upon the USFS when developing land management plans by granting the agency discretion to look beyond its borders to the recreational opportunities offered by other Federal or state agencies.
  • Ensures that lands designated as wilderness, wilderness eligible or suitable, and primitive or semi-primitive areas are considered open to all legal forms of recreational hunting, fishing and shooting unless there are legitimate reasons to close such areas.
  • Affirms an original purpose of the Wilderness Act of 1964 (P.L. 88-577, section 4(c)) by which the Act is to be “supplemental” to and not a hindrance in facilitating the original or primary purpose(s) for which the Federal land was established.
  • Reverses a recent court ruling that interferes with the authority of the US Fish and Wildlife Service to open wildlife refuges to hunting.  The bill eliminates duplicative and costly environmental analyses of hunt programs imposed upon the Service by a court ruling in a lawsuit brought by anti-hunters.
  • Allows Federal agencies to lease or permit its lands for the construction of shooting ranges and to designate specific lands for recreational shooting.
  • Ensures that a greater liability is not imposed upon the Federal Government for designating areas for safe shooting than is imposed for designating trails, campgrounds, boat launches and other recreational sites.
  • Allows the use of skilled volunteers in assisting Federal land managers in controlling over populations of wildlife where hunting is otherwise prohibited.
  • Asserts the authority of the state fish and wildlife agencies to manage resident wildlife on Federal lands.
  • Expressly will not open national parks or monuments managed by the National Park Service to recreational hunting or shooting.
  • Expressly will not open lands designated as wilderness to activities prevented by the Wilderness Act including the use of mechanized or motorized equipment or vehicles, timber harvesting, or mineral extraction.
  • Expressly does not include any land or water held in trust for the benefit of Indians or other Native Americans.

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