May 26, 2011 (Washington, DC) – H.R. 1997, the Making Public Lands Public Act, introduced in the U.S House of Representatives yesterday and S. 901, introduced earlier this month in the U.S. Senate, could potentially open hundreds of thousands of acres of Federal public land to hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreational activities.

The House version, introduced by the leadership of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC): Co-Chair Rep. Jeff Miller, Co-Chair Rep. Mike Ross, and Vice-Chairs Rep. Bob Latta and Rep. Heath Shuler, and the Senate version introduced by Co-Chair Sen. Jon Tester and Vice-Chair Sen. James Risch, would require the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to utilize 1.5% or a minimum of $10 million annually of their Land and Water Conservation Fund budgets for projects that secure recreational public access to existing federal lands through easements, rights-of-way, or fee title acquisitions from willing sellers.

“Coupled with bipartisan congressional support and the support of over 40 hunting, fishing, and conservation groups, this bill is a win for all – the sportsman, the land management agencies, and the willing private land owner,” said Rep. Miller. “At no additional cost to the taxpayer, this legislation, which would provide increased land access, will afford the hunters, anglers, recreational shooters and all in the sportsmen community the opportunity to continue to enjoy the great outdoors.”

“The public should be able to enjoy public lands,” said Rep. Ross. “This bill will help ensure the proper balance between conserving our public lands, promoting wildlife management and providing more Americans access to enjoy some of our nation’s most beautiful places. This is a win-win, commonsense piece of legislation.”

“Unlocking public lands is vital to our great American traditions of hunting and fishing; that’s why this legislation is an important step in improving and opening access to restricted federal lands,” said Rep. Latta.

Last August, similar language passed the U.S. House of Representatives, as an amendment by CSC Member and former Co-Chair, Rep. Ron Kind, overwhelmingly 404-1 as part of H.R. 3534, the Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources (CLEAR) Act.

Federal public lands are an important destination for millions American hunters, anglers, trappers, recreational shooters, and other outdoor enthusiasts. Nearly half of all hunters, for example, conduct a portion of their hunting activity on these lands. In addition, lack of access is cited as a primary reason that hunters and anglers stop participating in these traditional sports. A 2004 report to the House Appropriations Committee, stimulated by a Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) report, concluded that more than 35 million acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S Forest Service (USFS) land have inadequate access.

“This legislation would improve sportsmen’s access to hundreds of thousands of acres of federal land annually that is currently blocked or restricted,” said Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) President Jeff Crane. “The CSC is working diligently alongside the sportsmen’s community to open more public land to hunting and fishing, thereby providing more opportunities for Americans to enjoy the great outdoors.”

CSF, in cooperation with allies in the American Wildlife Conservation Partners (AWCP), a group of over 40 non-governmental organizations representing millions of hunter conservationists, launched the “Making Public Lands Public: Enhancing Hunter & Other Recreational Access to Federal Public Lands” initiative two years ago and subsequently requested that BLM and USFS utilize funds to improve hunter and other recreational access to Federal land and have identified opportunities in its list of funding priorities. Such opportunities have been identified as important projects by the Congress as expressed in the U.S. House Report to the FY 2010 Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.

In a letter to Congress in support of the Making Public Lands Public Act earlier this month, the AWCP partners urged members to sign-on and support the legislation. The letter states that “Allowing federal agencies to identify and prioritize smaller parcels on the boundaries of federal lands that provide public access for hunting and other nature-based recreation is common sense policy. Directing a modest portion of LWCF funds to secure those parcels would help the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior maximize the value of their existing federal land holdings.”

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