Infrastructure includes the nation’s system of public works and the resources such as personnel, structures or equipment required for various activities. While many correctly equate infrastructure to public works projects such as roads, bridges, water and wastewater systems and other utilities, there are other elements of the country’s infrastructure that have a direct impact on fish, wildlife, public recreation areas and by extension, sportsmen and women. Consequently, as decision makers consider proposals to address the nation’s infrastructure needs, it is critically important that programs supporting projects that range from wetland restoration-associated flood control to shooting range construction are included in these conversations.
Since the passage of the Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson excise taxes, hunters, shooters, anglers and boaters have generated billions for fish and wildlife conservation through the purchase of firearms and ammunition, fishing tackle and motorboat fuel. However, Function 300, which forms the core of conservation funding for the federal government, accounts for approximately 1 percent of total federal expenditures. In another measure of conservation spending, federal spending overall grew more than 130 percent from 1980 to 2009, but conservation spending went up by only 2.15 percent during this same period. In addition, the nation’s four major federal land management agencies – the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service now have a combined deferred maintenance backlog upwards of $18 billion (FY 2016 figures).
As discussions surrounding the best way to confront these problems in a comprehensive fashion take place on Capitol Hill, CSF has identified a set of sportsmen’s priorities that could help address the nation’s needs as part of a broader infrastructure package. These include:
- Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R. 4647) – Annually redirects $1.3 billion of existing royalty revenue from offshore and onshore oil and gas leases to state-led wildlife conservation efforts, effectively allowing the states to more fully implement their State Wildlife Action Plans. The money will largely be spent on efforts such as restoring habitats, reintroducing native wildlife, fighting invasive species, monitoring emerging diseases, educational programs and trail improvements.
- Modernizing Pittman-Robertson Fund For Tomorrow’s Needs Act (H.R. 2591/S.1613) – Clarifies that a purpose of the Pittman-Robertson fund is to extend assistance to the states for the promotion of hunting and recreational shooting, and that state expenditures may include enhancing access for hunting and recreational shooting, including through shooting range construction.
- Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act (H.R. 788/S.593) – Extends and increases states’ authority to allocate Pittman-Robertson funding for acquiring land for, expanding, or constructing public shooting ranges, provides liability protection to public ranges, and encourages federal land agencies to cooperate with state and local governments to maintain shooting ranges.
- Federal Land Transaction Facilitation (FLTFA) Act (H.R. 3668, Title XVII/S.2185) – Reauthorizes FLTFA, enabling the government to sell public land for ranching, community development, and other projects. The revenue allows federal agencies to acquire high-priority in-holdings from willing sellers.
- Making Public Lands Public (H.R. 2950) – amends the Land and Water Conservation Fund to increase public access to federal lands through strategic acquisitions from willing sellers to provide access to “landlocked” public lands and by making funds available to support maintaining and restoring existing roads, trails, and rights of way.
- HUNT Act (S. 733, Sec. 206) – requires federal land management agencies to identify public lands that lack public access routes, develop a plan to provide access routes to those lands that have significant potential for recreational use, and direct 1.5 percent in funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund each year to purchase road and trail easements and rights-of-way from willing sellers who own private land adjacent to inaccessible public lands. Requires public land agencies to identify roads that act as primary access routes for lands under their management, which will help the counties and states that manage these roads to make more informed decisions about maintenance and closures.
- North American Wetlands Conservation Act Reauthorization (H.R. 1099) – Reauthorizes a voluntary, competitive matching grants program that is non-regulatory and based on public-private funding. Provides matching grants to organizations and individuals who have developed partnerships to carry out wetlands conservation projects (i.e. shovel ready wetlands construction projects) in the United States, Canada, and Mexico for the benefit of wetlands-associated migratory birds and other wildlife. Requires a match of at least one dollar in non-Federal funds for every NAWCA dollar awarded. Supports projects that protect, restore, and enhance wetlands and associated upland habitats on public and private lands.
- National Fish Habitat Conservation Through Partnerships (S.1436) – leverages public-private partnerships by authorizing the appropriation of $7.2 million annually for fish habitat restoration and protection projects that are supported by regional Fish Habitat Partnerships and codifies the National Fish Habitat Action Plan.
- Recreational Fishing & Hunting Heritage Opportunities (Title IV/H.R. 3668, Sec 202, Title II/S.733, Sec. 8102, Title VIII/S.1460) – Ensures that BLM and USFS lands are “open to fishing, hunting and shooting until closed” by specific agency action. Clarifies and gives permanency to existing practices, forestalls unnecessary litigation challenges to these traditional activities by anti-hunting and fishing interests, creates greater administrative efficiency and reduces agency expenses, follows a successful 35-year model governing lands in Alaska.
- Highway Wildlife Crossings – Sportsmen recognize the need to conserve migration corridors, stopover areas and winter range habitats that are critical for the long-term viability of big game species that provide hunting opportunity, particularly in the West. Consistent with this goal are wildlife crossings that include structures such as underpass tunnels, viaducts, and overpasses that allow animals to cross human-made barriers, such as highways, safely. While planning for conservation of these landscape features is consistent with Secretarial Order 3362 (Improving Habitat Quality in Western Big-Game Winter Range and Migration Corridors), issued by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in February 2018, discussions surrounding a broader infrastructure package may provide opportunities to help identify additional resources to achieve these goals.
In February 2018, President Donald Trump released his Administration’s Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America. In his message to Congress, the President expressed his desire to work with legislators to address infrastructure needs throughout the nation. As Congress considers the proposal and develops legislation to meet these needs, CSF will continue working with members of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus to highlight the needs of the sportsmen’s community and advance infrastructure priorities that support hunting, fishing, recreational shooting as well as fish, wildlife and their habitats.
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