Last year, Dan Ashe, the former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, published a piece in the Mountain Journal titled “With Conservation, It’s Not Hunters And Anglers Versus Everyone Else.” His thoughts on the need for the conservationist movement to change with the times struck a chord with a lot of people:

There’s a new generation of conservationist out there. They’re in cities; they’re using iPhones and Androids; they don’t hunt or fish; they’ve never spent a night outdoors; their skin is red or black or brown; English may be their second language. We have to find them. We have to inspire and recruit and retain them. They will be the best-and-brightest. They will make conservation relevant.

He’s absolutely right. The typical idea of someone who enjoys sporting is a hook-and-bullet enthusiast. In truth, if you enjoy the outdoors you’re likely participating in outdoor recreation and sporting. We need to remember, now more than ever, that conservation and responsible resource management matter to all Americans — those who hunt, those who hike, those who canoe, and even those who don’t.

That’s why we’re proud to announce The Sporting Digest, the newest series here at the House Committee on Natural Resources. It’s dedicated to exploring policies, ideas and debates that will shape outdoor recreation — both its current relevance and its implications for the future.

Our outdoor traditions don’t perpetuate themselves. It’s up to us to share the fun, and the value, of our public lands with people we know, especially those who don’t already have that history or think of themselves as outdoor enthusiasts. We want to be part of that inspiration by offering a clear, accessible, objective analysis of how legislation will impact environmental quality, access to public lands, and our ability as Americans to enjoy our shared natural resources.

This series isn’t just about sharing information — it’s about taking action. Legislation introduced in Congress is supposed to reflect your concerns. If you see or hear something that moves you to take action, tell your friend and speak up, we think that’s great. It’s how democracy should work.

We hope this information inspires not just today’s conservationists, but the next wave of American nature lovers.

This series is about news you can use. That’s what you can expect from The Sporting Digest from now on.

The first issue we’re diving into is the permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). As you may have heard, the House on Feb. 26 passed an enormous bill commonly known as “the public lands package.” The lands package, formally titled the “John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act,” is the result of years of bipartisan efforts to protect the public lands that we hold most dear.

The bill does a lot — and it has some exciting specific improvements to public lands access for sporting. But today we’re focused on the biggest win of all: the permanent reauthorization of LWCF.

The Bill: S.47 Sec. 3001

What it does: Permanently authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund

Last Legislative Action: Passed by the U.S. House and U.S. Senate

What That Means: The U.S. Senate passed this bipartisan bill by a vote of 92–8. Now that the House has passed it, the next step is for the president to sign it into law.

The public lands package is one of the most comprehensive natural resources legislative efforts in a decade. It includes provisions from more than one hundred smaller individual bills. It designates 1.3 million acres of wilderness and permanently reauthorizes LWCF so we never again have a political fight over its future.

LWCF is one of the most important public lands programs in the United States. It’s protected more than 5 million acres of land across all 50 states and has already benefited about 42,000 sites around the country. Unfortunately, LWCF authorization and funding has been held hostage during partisan debates. Most recently, this critical program’s legal authority was allowed to expire on Sept. 30, 2018 — the second time the program lapsed under a Republican House in the last eight years.

Democrats now control the House of Representatives, and Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) has been a steadfast champion of permanent LWCF reauthorization. In the last Congress he introduced H.R. 502 to permanently reauthorize the Fund; he introduced a similar bill in the 114th Congress. Getting permanent LWCF reauthorization included in the final public lands package was a major accomplishment — and it wasn’t a partisan issue. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) introduced the accompanying Senate bill (S. 896) in the last Congress.

In addition to permanently authorizing LWCF, the public lands package included broad wins for conservation. It ensures that at least 3 percent of annual LWCF funds “be used for projects that secure recreational public access to existing Federal public land for hunting, fishing, and other recreational purposes.” This is a big win for everyone who enjoys outdoor recreation. Like Dan Ashe said, there’s no reason federal policy has to pit ‘hook-and-bullet’ fans against other forms of outdoor recreation.

The bill adds 1.3 million acres of new wilderness, 350 miles of wild and scenic rivers, and 2,600 miles of federal trails.

It protects 370,000 acres in Montana and Washington — outside Yellowstone National Park and North Cascades National Park, respectively — from new mining and drilling.

It establishes four new national monuments. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the package will save taxpayers $9 million.

Public lands should not be sold to the highest bidder. When we work to protect our public lands, they remain in public hands and sporting enthusiasts win.

LWCF allocates money to the four federal land management agencies — Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. These agencies use LWCF funds to acquire land holdings from willing sellers. Land acquired with these funds increases public recreation access, expands hunting and fishing areas, and increases the effectiveness and efficiency of federal land management.

You can find LWCF success without much trouble anywhere you look. Here’s one of our favorites: In 2015, BLM used $3 million in LWCF funds to purchase 4,000 acres in Oregon to create the only overland access to the John Day National Wild and Scenic River. This particular acquisition has special significance for outdoor enthusiasts, since it guarantees not only a certain level of environmental protection but continuous public access.

The John Day River is the longest undammed river in Oregon and meanders through colorful canyons and valleys dotted with juniper and sagebrush. The John Day is also a major attraction for anglers, boasting impressive smallmouth bass and steelhead fisheries. Thanks to the LWCF, anglers have ample public access and steelhead are allowed to migrate upstream and spawn with only occasional human interruption.

Protecting the John Day is about more than fishing. No fewer than 26 West Coast salmon and steelhead populations are listed under the Endangered Species Act. The recovery of these species hinges on proper fisheries management and the conservation of critical spawning habitat like the John Day River.

You can learn all about how the public lands bill helps our environment and increases public lands access for recreation HERE.

LWCF directs royalties from offshore oil and gas development on the Outer Continental Shelf to two main programs: the acquisition of federal lands from willing sellers, and the funding of state-matched grant projects. The LWCF Coalition outlines the funding breakdown and highlights the program’s wide reach.

In its 50-year history LWCF has:

  • Allocated more than $4.1 billion to states as matched grants;
  • Funded 42,000 state and local outdoor recreation projects; and
  • Added more than 800,000 acres of public lands between 2011 and 2014 alone.

Increasing access to public lands is one of the best reasons to reauthorize LWCF. Throughout the West, about 9.52 million acres of public lands are “landlocked,” meaning they’re either completely surrounded by private holdings or laid out in a disconnected checkerboard formation. Checkerboard land ownership consists of public and private parcels meeting corner to corner, with “corner crossing” considered trespassing in most states. This land is inaccessible to those wishing to enjoy it, whether for hunting, hiking or just birdwatching. S.47 solves this by assuring that a portion of all LWCF funds are used to increase public lands access. To learn more about inaccessible public land, check out the Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s report Off Limits but Within Reach, or the Center for Western Priorities analysis Landlocked: Measuring Public Land Access in the West.

Within the United States, 28 percent of all land — about 2.27 billion acres — is owned by the federal government. The majority is managed for preservation, recreation, and the development of natural resources. These public lands contribute to a bustling outdoor recreation economy that relies on the continued expansion, accessibility, and conservation of our public lands.

The outdoor recreation economy generates:

  • $887 billion in consumer spending annually
  • 7.6 million jobs
  • $65.3 billion in federal tax revenue
  • $59.2 billion in state and local tax revenue
Outdoor Industry Association

In the West, 46.4 percent of the land across 11 states is federally owned, so it’s no surprise that outdoor recreation is a big part of their overall economies. Oregon, where 53 percent of land is federally owned, benefits more from outdoor recreation than extractive industries — outdoor recreation creates three times more jobs than the wood products industry, for instance. The state generates $16.4 billion in consumer spending annually and relies on LWCF to expand and improve the public lands backbone of its economy.

To learn more about the outdoor recreation economy and find statistics for your state, visit the Outdoor Industry Association’s page on the Outdoor Recreation Economy.

Throughout the country, LWCF has provided funds to state and local governments for conservation projects and the improvement of our public lands and facilities. LWCF state and local grants have been used for projects from the creation and restoration of public recreational facilities to the conservation of open space and natural areas.

LWCF conservation success stories happen every year in states around the country. In 2003, LWCF funds were used in the acquisition of Ohio’s North Bass Island in Lake Erie. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources received the largest single-site state LWCF grant in the history of the program to protect the undeveloped island. A $6 million LWCF grant acquired 357 acres to develop campgrounds, picnic areas, swimming, boating and fishing facilities, and new hunting and natural areas. Fishing is offered along the 4.1 miles of public shore with hunting available for waterfowl within Fox’s Marsh Wildlife Area and other designated areas throughout the island.

LWCF funding, in other words, was crucial to the project’s success. There are thousands more just like it.

This kind of win-win scenario plays out wherever LWCF funds are available. Check out the resources below to learn more about how LWCF projects work and why they’re so important.

Well, the president still needs to sign this bill. But most important of all is to keep enjoying our public lands! Enjoying the fruits of our labor makes these fights worthwhile.

Follow @NRDems on Facebook Instagram Twitter & check back here for editions of The Sporting Digest.

House Natural Resources Committee Democrats, U.S. House of Representatives.

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